As most news agencies have reported, including the New York Times, Thursday the Illinois Supreme Court found that states medical malpractice statute capping non-economic damages unconstitutional. As the Times reported,
In a 4-to-2 ruling, the Illinois court wrote that the legislature, in enacting the 2005 law, violated the state Constitution’s separation of powers clause by imposing decisions that should be reserved for judges and juries. The law established caps of $500,000 for non-economic damages in verdicts against doctors and $1 million in cases against hospitals.
I have written here about the capriciousness of arbitrary caps on damages. But while the Court’s decision should be celebrated as a victory for our jury system and the citizens of Illinois, it is being attacked by some, including the Chicago Tribune, who do not respect the power and authority of the State’s Constitution. The Tribune editorialized that it was a "disastrous decision" and that
The Legislature acted appropriately in response to a crisis. Malpractice costs were skyrocketing in Illinois because insurers were afraid to do business here. They were afraid of runaway jury verdicts. They also knew that more than 20 states had some caps on damages, making those states much safer places to do business.
Putting aside the utterly false pretense that medical malpractice insurers somehow weren’t making money in Illinois, the Tribune ignores that the Illinois Supreme Court didn’t simply decide that it did not like the law; rather, it said that when considering its provisions in light of that state’s constitution, the legislatures violated constitutional principles and the rights of the citizens of Illinois.
In fact, in this case, the Court held that the legislature simply over stepped its authority. As noted by the Huffington Post,
It ultimately ruled that the statute was "facially invalid on separation of powers grounds," meaning that the legislative branch overstepped its bounds in constraining the judicial branch.
In fact, it wasn’t so much that the statute "constrained the judicial branch" as it stripped juries of their constitutional power. What the statute did was said that the politicians knew better how much an injury was worth than the citizens of Illinois. The Illinois Supreme Court held that, in fact, setting damage awards was the responsibility of citizens serving on juries, not the elected (and sometimes corrupt) politicians.
Giving power to our neighbors and other citizens is a far cry from a "disastrous decision." In fact, it should be celebrated next to the achievements of Illinois’ favorite son, Abraham Lincoln, who fought to protect similar constitutional rights. This is the perfect example of a victory for the Rule of Law over the Rule of Man.
Both an Emory School of Law graduate and MBA graduate of Goizueta Business School at Emory, Chris Nace focuses his practice on areas of medical malpractice, drug and product liability, motor vehicle accidents, wrongful death, employment discrimination and other negligence and personal injury matters.