Keith A. Hebeisen, partner at Clifford Law Offices, in his capacity of Past President of the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association (2005-06), spoke to the press Feb. 4, 2010, about the Illinois Supreme Court’s landmark decision upholding the constitutional right of injured patients to have a jury decide their fair and complete compensation in medical malpractice cases, instead of having politicians in Springfield set a one-size-fits-all cap on what the jury determines are their damages.
The case of LeBron v. Gottlieb Memorial Hospital involves little Abigaile, whose life has been forever changed by severe brain damage she suffered around the time of her birth as a result of medical errors. She will have to be fed through a tube for the rest of her life and will never develop cognitively or physically as other children do, nor can she ever live independently. She is one of those against whom the this unconstitutional cap would have discriminated against, by arbitrarily denying her full capping her compensation for her injuries.
In an opinion written by Chief Justice Thomas Fitzgerald, the state’s highest court ruled as it always has in the past, that caps on medical malpractice damages are unconstitutional. Key excerpts from the majority opinions are, “Each branch of government has its own unique sphere of authority that cannot be exercised by another branch. Here, too, we necessarily consider what the statute purports to do – limit noneconomic damages in medical malpractice actions – and the legislature’s goal in enacting the statute – responding to a health-care crisis. Our separation of powers analysis, however, does not stop there. That ‘[other states are] doing it’ is hardly a litmus test for the constitutionality of the statute. The crux of our analysis is whether the statute unduly infringes upon the inherent power of the judiciary. The cap on damages is mandatory and operates wholly apart from the specific circumstances of a particular plaintiff’s noneconomic injuries. Therefore, [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. Here, the legislature’s attempt to limit common law damages in medical malpractice actions runs afoul of the separation of powers clause. The encroachment upon the inherent power of the judiciary is the same in the instant case as it was in [the previous case in 1997]. Although we do not expect that the members of this court will always agree as to what the law is, or how to apply the law in a given case, we do expect that our disagreements will focus on the legal issues, providing a level of discourse appropriate to the state’s highest court. The emotional and political rhetoric that peppers the dissent is ill-suited to this pursuit.” Click here to read the complete decision.
At the press conference, Hebeisen noted that when the law was passed in 2005, the General Assembly had been reminded that caps had been held unconstitutional twice before and as recently as 1997. The Chicago Daily Law Bulletin covered the event. To view the video link to the Illinois Channel’s taping of the entire press conference, click here.
This week, the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association also published a comprehensive paper on the subject entitled, “The Whole Truth About Medical Malpractice and Insurance,” written by Hebeisen. The paper explores in depth the real facts which show that high insurance rates for doctors should be blamed on the insurance companies themselves, not lawsuits.