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Illinois Supreme Court: Noneconomic Damage Caps are Unconstitutional

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In a decision the whole country should pay attention to, the Illinois Supreme Court has struck down the state’s $500,000 cap on noneconomic damages, declaring the cap an unconstitutional violation of the Illinois constitution’s separation of powers doctrine.

In Illinois, noneconomic damages include “damages that are intangible, including but not limited to damages for pain and suffering, disability, disfigurement, loss of consortium, and loss of society.”

Illinois first instituted the $500,000 damage cap in 2005. Some time later, the case of Lebron v. Gottlieb Memorial Hospital, involving a baby who had suffered severe and permanent injuries during a Cesarean section, including brain damage and cerebral palsy, came to trial and challenged the cap.

In this particular case, the noneconomic damages far exceeded the statutory cap, prompting the plaintiff to argue that the statute was unconstitutional in that it violates the separation of powers clause of the Illinois constitution.

The Illinois Supreme Court agreed…In effect, the court said, that the 2005 statute allows the legislature to usurp the power of the judiciary and “override the jury’s deliberative process and reduce any noneconomic damages in excess of the statutory cap, irrespective of the particular facts and circumstances, and without the plaintiff’s consent.” This is a violation of the separation of powers clause, the court held. –The Clinical Advisor

Apart from interfering with a jury’s deliberative process, caps on damages also harm patients, by preventing the injured from receiving the compensation they deserve. For those who come seeking health care but leave with needless, preventable and sometimes permanent injuries, financial compensation is often their only hope of maintaining a livable life.

Rather than trying to limit patients’ rights by implementing damage caps and other tort reforms, the nation should be focusing on ways to make hospitals safer, so that patient injuries and deaths can be prevented in the first place.