Illinois Supreme Court sends personal injury lawyers the ultimate Valentine

Travis Akin Feb. 7, 2010, 8:54am


The Illinois Supreme Court lovingly gift wrapped the ultimate Valentine's Day present for personal injury lawyers by striking down the state's historic medical malpractice reform law in a recently released decision.

In a 4-2 decision in the Abigaile Lebron v. Gottlieb Memorial Hospital case, the Illinois Supreme Court struck down the state's medical malpractice reform law, ruling that the caps provisions in the law violated the Lebron case in November of 2007. The case went to the Illinois Supreme Court for further review. Voting to strike down the law were justices Thomas L. Kilbride, Charles E. Freeman, Thomas R. Fitzgerald and Anne M. Burke.

The justices voting in favor of striking down the law stated that the law violated the separation of powers by limiting what a judge could award in non-economic damages in medical malpractice cases. The comprehensive medical malpractice reform law was approved in 2005. It included medical, insurance and legal reforms. While there were no limits on economic damages, the law capped damages for pain and suffering to $500,000 for doctors and $1 million for hospitals.

In his dissent, Justice Lloyd A. Karmeier stated: "Our job is to do justice under the law, not to make the law. Formulating statutory solutions to social problems is the prerogative of the legislature... If courts exceed their constitutional role and second-guess policy determinations by the General Assembly under the guise of judicial review, they not only jeopardize the system of checks and balances on which our government is based, they also put at risk the welfare of the people the government was created to serve."

The High Court's decision is indeed a case of judicial activism. After all, the 2005 law was the result of a bipartisan effort to address the serious issue of doctors leaving the state of Illinois because of the out-of-control medical malpractice premiums. Doctors could no longer afford to practice medicine in Illinois and thousands of patients were left wondering how they were going to access the medical care they needed.

It was a legislative solution to a serious problem and by all accounts, the law was working. The healthcare crisis facing Illinois had been averted. For the third consecutive year, ISMIE Mutual Insurance Co., the state's largest insurer of physicians, announced earlier this year that their base premium rates would not be going up.

But now the future of healthcare in Illinois is in jeopardy and there is no guarantee that things will ever be the same in Illinois.

We got lucky the last time we faced a healthcare crisis. The General Assembly acted quickly to fix the problem by passing the 2005 medical malpractice reform law. Once the law took effect, doctors stopped leaving and new doctors started arriving. But now that the law has been overturned, we cannot be certain doctors will ever come back to Illinois even if the Legislature acts quickly to address the impending crisis.

Personal injury lawyers are the only winners with the Supreme Court's decision. They got a sweetheart deal just before Valentine's Day. The rest of us not only were left empty handed on Valentine's Day, but we also got dumped.

Rest assured there is a healthcare crisis on the horizon. The call to arms starts right now. All of Illinois must stand together and demand reform. The future of healthcare in Illinois depends on it.

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