Backs counters Cates

The Madison County Record Jun. 26, 2005, 4:49am

To the editor:

It is unfortunate – yet not surprising – that in her Q&A with your paper (“QA:ITLA president elect Cates challenges caps,” June 16, 2005), Ms. Judy Cates ignores pertinent facts and perpetuates damaging myths about Illinois’ hostile legal environment.

Perhaps a few points of clarification will explain how the recently passed medical liability reform bill will help our state.

For one, the problem with Illinois’ legal system is about more than just excess verdicts. Ms. Cates and her colleagues have repeatedly ignored the fact that millions are spent by liability insurers each year defending excessive, unwarranted litigation.

In 2004, ISMIE Mutual paid $71 million in defense costs alone, about 80 percent of which went to defend malpractice cases where no fault was found on the part of the physician, and where no damage awards were paid. ISMIE must pay to process or defend all cases filed, whether they have merit or not.

The reform provision capping awards for non-economic damages will help tame the jackpot justice mentality that drives a lot of the lawsuits filed. In the Metro-East area, where the same juries and same courts have become accustomed to awarding multi-million dollar verdicts for tobacco, asbestos and class-action lawsuits, many medical liability lawsuits are simply settled out of fear, not fault. When the big payout carrot is removed, frivolous cases are not likely to be filed.

Caps also bring balance and predictability to verdicts, which is to the advantage of both liability insurers and those injured. With no guidelines currently in place, juries grant non-economic awards based on emotion not fact.

This is not a fair or balanced way to reach justice. Added balance is also struck for non-wage earners -- like single mothers, children, the elderly –- whose damage awards will include an “average weekly wage,” a provision Ms. Cates conveniently overlooks.

Other provisions in the reform bill will benefit Illinois citizens as well. Standards for experts weighing-in on the merits of a case are enhanced. Insurance regulation and medical discipline are enhanced. Public information about physicians is made more available for patients to review.

Placing a cap on non-economic damages has been effective in other states, despite propaganda to the contrary.

In 2003, Texas, West Virginia and Ohio enacted caps legislation and already these states have seen liability premiums go down, doctors return to practice medicine, and liability insurers return to the market. These positive results of caps -- repeatedly ignored by Ms. Cates and her colleagues -- protect all Illinois citizens by protecting their fragile access to health care.

I hope that your readers will ignore the misinformation campaign and the sour grapes being perpetuated by ITLA. Those living in the Metro-East area should be happy to know that their doctors are looking out for their healthcare needs.

Craig A. Backs, M.D.
President, Illinois State Medical Society

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