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The Impact of Removing Judgment Caps on Illinois Medical Malpractice Law

In the spring of 2010 the Illinois Supreme Court overturned caps on certain medical malpractice damages originally enacted in 2005. According to the NWI Times, the ruling uncapped non-economic damages, damages for intangible injuries such as pain and suffering, as well as emotional distress and loss of consortium.

The ruling surprised many, especially since courts are trying to control their overburdened civil dockets and other states continue to set caps on medical malpractice damages. For example, the Insurance Journal reports that Tennessee recently set a cap of $750,000 for non-economic damages and $500,000 on punitive damages.

Over the past year and a half this ruling has had a tremendous impact on civil litigation and health care in Illinois.

Impact on the Health Care Community

If doctor violates a standard of care, and if that violation (negligence) results in a patient's injury, the physician might be held liable in a court of law. Depending on the injury, the amount of damages a successful plaintiff might be awarded can far exceed what even most doctors can afford. As a result, doctors obtain medical malpractice insurance to pay any judgment resulting from a medical malpractice claim.

The cost for these premiums is one of physicians' largest expenses. This is especially for those running their own practice because they are viewed as a necessity.

When the legislature originally set caps in 2005 these premiums dropped significantly, but they have since skyrocketed to the extent where many physicians believe they cannot afford to practice in Illinois. In fact, many doctors refuse to. This has caused some to argue that removing the caps has reduced the overall quality of available healthcare.

Impact on Patients

Patients trust their health care providers to operate according to set standards of care. Although there are inherent risks with any medical procedure, it is unacceptable when a physician's operates below this standard of care prescribed by the medical community.

Successful plaintiffs have been awarded millions of dollars in past medical malpractice cases. Many believe these amounts are excessive, but opponents of judgment caps assert that caps are arbitrary and do not reflect the severity of everyone's injuries. One person's surgical error might require millions of dollars in compensation, while another person's might not. Therefore, removing the caps allow juries to ultimately decide the compensation required on a case by case basis, even if the award exceeds the eliminated caps.

Regardless of a person's stance on this issue, it is clear that medical malpractice can significantly impact a patient's life, family and wellbeing. Anyone who has been injured as a result of a physician's negligence should contact an experienced medical malpractice attorney immediately to discuss their rights and potential legal claims.

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