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Illinois Supreme Court Rejects Cap|On Medical Malpractice Awards

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (CN) - The Illinois Supreme Court on Thursday found the state's cap on medical malpractice damages unconstitutional. The 4-2 decision rejected the 2005 law that limited jury awards for pain and suffering to $500,000 against doctors and $1 million against hospitals. The court called the law a legislative branch infringement on an issue that should be decided by the courts.

"The separation of powers clause prohibits one branch of government from exercising 'powers properly belonging to another,'" Chief Justice Thomas R. Fitzgerald wrote in the majority opinion. "Thus, the inquiry under the separation of powers clause is not whether the damages cap is rationally related to a legitimate government interest but, rather, whether the legislature, through its adoption of the damages cap, is exercising powers properly belonging to the judiciary."

The state's medical and business industries supported the cap, claiming jury awards against doctors have led to astronomical malpractice insurance rates and driven doctors out of the state.

The court's decision is a win for trial lawyers and patient-rights groups, who argue that the real factor behind medical malpractice insurance rates is the insurance industry.

Judges Charles E. Freeman, Thomas L. Killbride and Anne M. Burke concurred with Fitzgerald. Judges Lloyd A. Karmeier and Rita B. Garman agreed in part and dissented in part. Judge Robert R. Thomas didn't take part in the decision.

"While it is evident that plaintiffs and the numerous entities which have filed friend of the court briefs are keenly interested in our views on the validity of the Public Act 94-677's caps on noneconomic damages, the law has been in effect since 2005," Karmeier wrote. "It is now 2010. To my knowledge, there has yet to be a single documented instance from any circuit in which any victim of medical malpractice has seen his or her award of noneconomic damages actually reduced pursuant to this statute."

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