Illinois Supreme Courts Picks Fight With Pro-Business Proponents Over Health Care

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Yesterday, the Illinois Supreme Court ruled that capping certain non-economic damages in medical malpractice suits was unconstitutional.

A 2005 state law established that damages awarded for pain and suffering had to be limited at $500,000 to $1 million dollars, depending on whether the plaintiff is suing a doctor or a hospital. The court said the law violated separation of powers by limiting the ability of the court to assign appropriate damages in cases.

The 4-2 ruling is certain to resound in Washington.

WSJ: The ruling is a setback for supporters of tort-reform efforts in Illinois, including the state’s doctors and hospitals. It was criticised by pro-business groups nationwide, which long have claimed that medical-malpractice suits are a major contributor to rising health-care costs.

NYTimes: Republicans enthusiastically support the limits, and they are seen as a potential vehicle for restarting the stalled health care negotiations in Congress with bipartisan impetus. Neither the House bill that Democrats passed late last year nor its Senate counterpart included significant changes to medical malpractice regulations.

State-by-state, the issue of caps is divisive. Sixteen states have upheld the caps laws and 11 states have overturned them.

In the majority opinion, Chief Justice Thomas Fitzgerald wrote, “”That ‘everybody is doing it’ is hardly a litmus test for the constitutionality of the statute.”

But an editorial in the Chicago Tribune, titled “A Disastrous Decision” warns to “watch out for what happens next,” and points out the clear partisanship behind the decision.

Chicago Tribune: At the Supreme Court, though, the decision broke strictly along partisan lines. In the majority, four Democrats: Thomas Fitzgerald, Charles Freeman, Thomas Kilbride and Anne Burke. In the minority, two Republicans: Karmeier and Garman. Republican Bob Thomas did not participate in the decision.

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