In this Legal Newsline article, the Illinois Supreme Court struck down a law capping damages in medical malpractice cases in Illinois. You can read the full text of Lebron v. Gottlieb Memorial Hospital on the official Illinois Supreme Court Website. You can listen to oral arguments recorded live here.
The law, passed in 1995, limited non-economic damages to an arbitrary amount of $500,000 in each case of medical negligence against individual physicians and $1 Million for hospitals. As of yesterday, all of this is no longer in effect. I believe that this is a major victory for the victims of medical malpractice, and should serve as persuasive authority for overturning similar laws in other states, such as here in Indiana. One Illinois personal injury attorney, Robert Kreisman, writes a very informative article about what this case means in Illinois law.
As I have commented before, I believe that this promotes sound public policy for two (2) main reasons. First, it adequately compensates victims for the damages they suffer at the hand of negligent doctors. In my experience, I have met with many who have suffered grave injuries and sustained insurmountable monetary damages. These innocent patients have done nothing wrong. They spend valuable time and money pursuing and enforcing their rights. I believe they should be adequately compensated for this time, energy, and effort.
Secondly, in such a system, lawyers can provide a much needed check on the medical profession. Absent such a check, doctors are free to be careless. But for the diligent work of medical malpractice attorneys, doctors would not be held accountable for their misdeeds. Every other profession is given some check on the quality of service. For instance, every state bar allows aggrieved litigants who have suffered legal malpractice to file complaints with the respective disciplinary commissions. Many of these are online, extremely user-friendly, and can be career-ending for attorneys, even in a single instance. As meritless as the overwhelming majority of these claims are, each and every one is given attention. In addition, there are lawyers who build entire practices pursuing legal malpractice. These lawyers and firms are eager to find flaws on the part of other lawyers, and ruthlessly pursue them. There are no caps in legal malpractice. Why should doctors get such special treatment?
Lawyers, in filing meritorious medical malpractice claims, make it economically infeasible for poor performing doctors to practice. From my interviews with the field, most doctors can survive a single verdict. Multiple verdicts, however, will end a physician’s career. Good riddance, I say… Who wants to hire a physician who has been the subject of MULTIPLE medical malpractice claims? Not I.
I understand that this raises the overall cost of healthcare in the current system. The new proposed system seeks to limit these suits altogether, for the sake of efficiency; but is that nominal gain worth the price of deteriorating the quality of care?