The Illinois Supreme Court ruled Thursday, February 4th, that the 2005 limits on medical malpractice awards were an unconstitutional infringement by the legislature on the court’s jurisdiction. The Missouri Supreme Court heard arguments on the same issue on January 14th , but has not yet issued a ruling. The specific issue in Missouri involved a patient who contracted a staph infection subsequent to a pacemaker implant. The issues involved in the case received considerable attention from multiple interested parties, with legal briefs filed on behalf of 25 groups. Attorneys representing injured patients argued that the 2005 law capping medical malpractice awards violated numerous provisions of the Missouri Constitution and that lawmakers had no rational basis to reduce the amount of money patients injured by medical negligence could win from doctors, hospitals or other medical health providers.
The primary change in the 2005 Missouri law, lowered the limit for non-economic damages such as pain and suffering in medical malpractice cases to a flat $350,000 per lawsuit. Previously, the limit of $579,00 was adjusted annually for inflation and had been interpreted by the courts to be applicable to multiple parties in a lawsuit.
The 2005 Illinois law limited certain types of jury awards to $500,000 against doctors, and $1 million against hospitals. In striking down the law, Illinois Chief Justice Thomas Fitzgerald noted that the Illinois legislature sought to “override the jury’s deliberative process and reduce non-economic damages in excess of the statutory cap, irrespective of the particular facts and circumstances, and without the plaintiff’s consent.” As a result, he wrote, the law “violates the separation of powers clause in the Illinois Constitution.”
Also thrown out by the court’s ruling were price controls in the legislation on insurance companies providing medical malpractice for doctors. It is believed by many that those price controls were the reason that medical malpractice insurance rates have dropped, not the caps themselves.
We will have to wait and see how the Missouri Supreme Court rules on these issues which are so important to those families whose lives are devastated by acts of medical negligence.