With the increase in health care costs, much discussion has been held regarding
the impact of
medical malpractice cases upon the cost of health care. Medical malpractice insurers repeatedly
argue that medical malpractice lawsuits are driving up the cost of liability
insurance for the doctors and hospitals, which in turn force doctors to
practice elsewhere or quit practicing all together. Medical malpractice
insurers also argue that the increased cost in liability insurance must
be passed on to the patient, thus driving up the cost of health-care.
Numerous studies on this issue have shown that caps on medical malpratice
awards do not impact the cost of health care or malpractice insurance.
Despite the “medical malpractice” crisis, insurers continue
to report record profits.
Recently, Oregonians narrowly rejected a ballot measure which capped damages
in medical malpractice cases. As indicated by the article below, similar
caps have been ruled unconstitutional in other states. What proponents
of damage caps fail to recognize is that medical negligence continues
to cause severe injury and death resulting in millions of dollars in economic
loss for future medical care and lost wages without even addressing pain
and suffering caused by such negligence. Civil jury trials are the only
method by which injured parties can seek compensation. Damage caps bind
the hands of juries to administer justice thereby nullifying the jury system.
Judge rules malpractice law unconstitutional
By Adam Jadhav
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
Reopening a statewide political controversy, a Cook County judge ruled
today that limiting how much a doctor or hospital could be forced to pay
in a medical malpractice suit is unconstitutional. MORE
Download a 10-page PDF of the judge’s decision
The judge’s ruling strikes down landmark medmal litigation reform
legislation enacted by the legislature in 2005. Supporters said the reforms
were necessary to curtail massive lawsuit awards that insurance companies
blamed for rising insurance costs. Critics said the lawsuits were the
scapegoat as insurance companies tried to justify profits.
The law contained a package of reforms, including rules aimed at opening
the medmal insurance industry to competition and allowing the state to
deny excessive malpractice insurance rate increases. State officials and
even some insurance companies say those changes are working.
But the most embattled provision capped noneconomic damages — so-called
pain and suffering awards — at $500,000 for doctors and $1 million
for hospitals. Almost immediately both trial lawyers and tort reform groups
predicted that portion of the law would be challenged.
The constitutional challenge came in a 2006 Cook County lawsuit alleging
a that a botched delivery left an infant with severe brain damage. Judge
Joan Larsen ruled Tuesday that the caps violate the constitution by allowing
the legislature control over a judge’s ability to award damages.
Though Larsen only ruled on the constitutionality of the damage caps,
she struck down the entire law.
Groups representing insurers, physicians and hospitals were all quick
to denounce the ruling as bad for Illinois doctors and patients. Meanwhile
consumer groups and trial lawyers praised the decision as removing an
unfair limitation on the civil justice system.
Supporters of the law vowed to appeal though the state Supreme Court has
struck down similar damage caps in the past.