Illinois Malpractice Cap Ruled Unconstitutional

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For Immediate Release: February 4, 2010

Contact: Ray De Lorenzi
202-965-3500, ext. 8369
media.replies@justice.org

Illinois Malpractice Cap Ruled Unconstitutional

Decision shows why judges and juries, not legislators, should decide merits of individual cases

Washington D.C.—Illinois’ cap on malpractice damages was today ruled unconstitutional, illustrating why federal efforts to place arbitrary limits on the amount injured patients receive won’t fix America’s broken health care system.

The plaintiff in this case, Abigaile Lebron, was born horribly impaired in October 2005, when the doctors attending her mother allegedly failed to perform necessary tests to treat her troubled pregnancy, which indicated a need for immediate delivery. When she was finally delivered by Cesarean sections, Abigaile had suffered severe brain injury, cerebral palsy, cognitive mental impairment, and inability to develop normal neurological function.

The Illinois Supreme Court held that the legislature violated separation of powers by enacting the damage cap, thus intruding on the authority of judges to assure that jury verdicts conform to the evidence. The ruling was the third time since 1976 that the Illinois court had found a damage cap unconstitutional.

The constitutional team of lawyers that challenged the cap included Robert S. Peck, Valerie Nannery and Ande Mura of the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Constitutional Litigation, Professor Michael Gottesman of Georgetown Law Center, Jonathan Massey of Bethesda, MD, Kenneth Cheseboro of Cambridge, MA, and Jeff Goldberg, Todd Smith, and Devon Bruce, all of Chicago, IL.

"This decision is a victory for the families of patients who are killed or seriously injured by preventable medical errors,” said American Association for Justice President Anthony Tarricone. “For years, groups on the federal and state level have used scare tactics to restrict the rights of injured patients. But the facts show time and again that caps or similar one-sided measures do nothing to lower costs, cover the uninsured, or improve access to care. As the health care reform debate continues, the ruling in Illinois shows that judges and juries - not legislators - should decide the merits of each case and appropriate compensation for injured patients.”

Under the 2005 statute, any jury verdict in Abigaile’s favor would be capped at $500,000 against physicians found liable and $1 million against the hospital, if held liable.

 

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