Illinois: Another Shining Light For Medical Malpractice Victims

Section 2–1706.5 of the Illinois Code of Civil Procedure provides in relevant part:

(a) In any medical malpractice action or wrongful death action based on medical malpractice in which economic and non-economic damages may be awarded, the following standards shall apply:

(1) In a case of an award against a hospital and its personnel or hospital affiliates, as defined in Section 10.8 of the Hospital Licensing Act, the total amount of noneconomic damages shall not exceed $1,000,000 awarded to all plaintiffs in any civil action arising out of the care.

(2) In a case of an award against a physician and the physician’s business or corporate entity and personnel or health care professional, the total amount of noneconomic damages shall not exceed $500,000 awarded to all plaintiffs in any civil action arising out of the care.

(3) In awarding damages in a medical malpractice case, the finder of fact shall render verdicts with a specific award of damages for economic loss, if any, and a specific award of damages for non-economic loss, if any.

The trier of fact shall not be informed of the provisions of items (1) and (2) of this subsection (a). 735 ILCS 5/2–1706.5.

On February 4, 2010, the Supreme Court of Illinois decided a case in which it held, “Under section 2–1706.5, the court is required to 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. Section 2–1706.5 thus violates the separation of powers clause because it “unduly encroaches upon the fundamentally judicial prerogative of determining whether a jury’s assessment of damages is excessive within the meaning of the law.”…Section 2–1706.5…effects an unconstitutional legislative remittitur.”

The doctrine of “remittitur” in Illinois is the “traditional and inherent power of the judicial branch, to be exercised in appropriate circumstances to correct an excessive jury verdict, and that its application presents a question of law for the court…Where a jury verdict “ ‘falls outside the range of fair and reasonable compensation or results from passion or prejudice, or if it is so large that it shocks the judicial conscience,’ ” a court has a duty to correct the verdict by ordering a remittitur, with the plaintiff’s consent…If consent is not given, the court has a duty to order a new trial…Whether a remittitur should be ordered is necessarily considered on a case-by-case basis…That is, the court must carefully examine the particular evidence and circumstances of the case to determine whether it must override the jury’s verdict.

The Supreme Court of Illinois further stated, “The separation of powers clause prohibits one branch of government from exercising “powers properly belonging to another.” Ill. Const. 1970, art. II, §1. 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. In other words, does the statute unduly encroach on the judiciary’s “sphere of authority”… or “impede the courts in the performance of their functions”? The rational basis test is not part of that legal determination. Numerous cases from this court illustrate the distinction between a separation of powers analysis and a special legislation analysis…Here, the legislature’s attempt in section 2–1706.5 to limit common law damages in medical malpractice actions runs afoul of the separation of powers clause.”

The Supreme Court of Illinois concluded, “We hold that the limitation on noneconomic damages in medical malpractice actions set forth in section 2–1706.5 of the Code violates the separation of powers clause of the Illinois Constitution (Ill. Const. 1970, art. II, §1) and is invalid.”

Source: Supreme Court of Illinois Decision

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This entry was posted on Sunday, August 21st, 2011 at 11:52 am. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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