Decision to halt malpractice damage caps in Ill. could have national aftershocks

With ramifications that could affect potential national healthcare reform, the Illinois Supreme Court dealt a blow to hospitals and physicians worried about the costs of malpractice lawsuits by striking down a law that limited damages in these cases.

The court on Thursday said that Illinois' medical malpractice laws violated separation of powers, with the legislature taking powers that belong to the judiciary.

"That 'everybody is doing it,' is hardly a litmus test for the constitutionality of the statute," wrote Chief Justice Thomas Fitzgerald for the majority of the seven-member court, referring to the fact that other states are also capping damages.

The 2005 legislation established limits on pain and suffering and other non-economic damages of $500,000 in cases against doctors, and $1 million against hospitals. According to the Congressional Budget Office, reforms, such as capping non-economic damages, would lower the nation's health care bill by only 0.5 percent.

The ruling could affect debate at the federal level. Although President Obama and Democrats have not shown favor to the idea of capping damages, they have spoken about enacting some kind of liability reform. The American Medical Association wrote yesterday that it opposes the ruling.

To learn more:
- read this Chicago Tribune article