Damages Caps in Medical Malpractice Cases Are Unconstitutional in Illinois

In a landmark 2010 case, the Illinois Supreme Court decided that a cap on non-economic damages in medical malpractice cases is unconstitutional. In the case, the plaintiffs, a minor and her mother, sued a doctor and hospital for medical malpractice, alleging that the defendants’ negligence caused the daughter to suffer from severe and permanent injuries. The injuries included cerebral palsy, cognitive mental impairment, neurological damage, severe brain injury, and the need for a feeding tube, among others.

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In the case, the Illinois Supreme Court was asked to decide if a law enacted by the Illinois General Assembly that limited non-economic damages against doctors and hospitals in medical malpractice actions was constitutional. Under the law, non-economic damages against doctors were capped at $500,000 and non-economic damages against hospitals and hospital personnel at $1,000,000. Non-economic damages included, but were not limited to, damages for pain and suffering, disfigurement, loss of consortium, and loss of society.

In its ruling, the court found that the statute, which was passed by the Illinois General Assembly, violated the state constitution’s separation of powers clause. The separation of powers clause reserves certain powers for each branch of government. In this case, the Court found that the General Assembly exceeded its power by passing the damages cap, since determinations about the appropriateness of a damages award is a power reserved for Illinois state judges, not lawmakers.

Damages Caps Deprive Injured Patients of Compensation They Deserve

When a patient is injured by a doctor’s or hospital’s negligence, the patient is entitled to damages. Some damages are intended to reimburse a patient for costs associated with their injuries. With these kinds of damages, an injured patient receives compensation for out-of-pocket costs like lost wages and medical expenses that are not covered by insurance. Under the law, these damages are called “economic damages.”

Sometimes, however, economic damages do not paint a true picture of a patient’s losses. As a result, economic damages often do not fully compensate patients for their injuries. Non-economic damages are designed to fill this void.

Non-economic damages are crucial to making injured parties feel close to being whole again. They compensate patients for the pain they are forced to endure as a result of a doctor’s or hospital’s negligence. Non-economic damages also compensate patients for injuries and losses associated with being unable to live a full and happy life. These patients may never be able to eat a good meal again, go to a movie, or even fully enjoy the company of their partners. These damages are often just as important — and sometimes more important — than traditional economic damages.

By capping non-economic damages, the Illinois General Assembly sought to reduce health care costs in Illinois. The General Assembly believed that by capping these damages, malpractice insurance premiums would plateau or fall, and doctors would no longer shy away from practicing higher-risk types of medicine or taking jobs in less populated areas of the state.

Whether or not these claims are true is debatable. What is known, however, is that the caps would deprive injured patients of the very damages that are so important to maximizing the enjoyment left in their lives. Without them, injured patients may recoup their monetary losses, but they would continue to suffer, often living their lives as shells of their former selves.

The Illinois Supreme Court’s decision protects patients from the statute’s shortsightedness. It recognizes that each injured patient suffers uniquely, and each medical malpractice claim must be judged on its own merits. The law was designed to solve a broad problem involving the healthcare system, but it neglected the very patients who suffer most when health care providers commit inexcusable errors.

Do You Suffer from Pain and Suffering or Other Types of Damages?

At Moll Law Group, we look at each of our clients and their families as whole people. By doing this, we see not just how a patient is injured in terms of out-of-pocket costs, but also how his or her life has changed from less obvious perspectives. We understand that a person’s depleted bank account may not be their biggest concern, and we work to recover all of the damages he or she is entitled to, even the less obvious ones. If you are someone you love has been injured because of medical malpractice, call the lawyers at Moll Law Group for a free consultation. Our phone number is (312) 462-1700.

See More Posts:

Girl Sues After Suffering a Serious Injury While Boarding a Chicago Bus, Illinois Injury Lawyer Blog, October 22, 2015.

Six-Vehicle Chain-Reaction Accident Caused When Semi-Truck Rear-Ends Van, Illinois Injury Lawyer Blog, October 20, 2015.

Fatal O’Fallon Truck Accident May Have Been Caused by Medical Emergency, Illinois Injury Lawyer Blog, October 18, 2015.