Illinois law shielding doctors is rejected

St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Tuesday, November 13, 2007

An Illinois judge struck down a state law Tuesday protecting doctors and hospitals from large payouts in medical malpractice cases, a move that could reopen the bitter political fight over patients' rights and big-money lawsuits.
The most embattled provision capped noneconomic damages — so-called pain and suffering awards — at $500,000 for doctors and $1 million for hospitals. From the moment Gov. Rod Blagojevich signed the law at a symbolic ceremony at St. Anthony's Health Center in Alton, trial lawyers, tort reform activists, the insurance industry predicted that the law would be contested.
Such a challenge came in a 2006 Cook County lawsuit alleging that a botched delivery left an infant with severe brain damage. In that case, Judge Diane Joan Larsen ruled Tuesday that the caps violate the state constitution by allowing the Legislature control over a judge or jury's ability to award or reduce damages.
Larsen also voided provisions of the law requiring insurance companies to be more forthcoming about their rates, allowing for more penalties for bad doctors and more. Legislators in creating the law inserted language so that if one portion was struck, the rest would fell as well.
Both supporters and critics acknowledged Tuesday's ruling was a first, necessary and not unexpected step in settling the matter. Lawyers for the doctor plan to appeal to the Illinois Supreme Court.
Chicago-area judge rules in malpractice case
This issue has come before the state's highest court twice before, most recently in 1997. Both times provisions limiting damage caps have been struck down.

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