Washington, DC—On November 13th, Cook County Circuit Court Judge Diane J. Larsen declared the 2005 Illinois medical malpractice “reform” statute, which capped noneconomic damages, violated the Illinois Constitution. The ruling came in the case of Lebron v. Gottlieb Memorial Hospital, which had been designated as the lead case for challenges to the law. The decision constituted a major victory for the Center for Constitutional Litigation (CCL). CCL President Robert S. Peck argued the case. Joining him on the briefs were CCL attorney Francine Hochberg, as well as Jeffrey M. Goldberg of Jeffrey M. Goldberg Law Offices and Todd Smith and Devon Bruce of Power, Rogers and Smith, P.C., all of Chicago and AAJ members.
The Plaintiffs had moved for judgment on the pleadings on their constitutional claims. The Defendants in Lebron, represented by former U.S. Solicitor General Theodore Olson, had cross-moved for a declaration that the law was constitutional, while also challenging the Plaintiffs’ standing to raise the law’s constitutionality.
Judge Larsen ruled in favor of the plaintiffs on all issues. She found the “catastrophic nature of the injuries pled in the complaint” were sufficient to confer standing. She also held that the cap on damages “operates as a legislative remittitur which ‘disregards the jury’s careful deliberative process in determining damages that will fairly compensate injured plaintiffs who have proven their causes of action’” and thus violates separation of powers. The cap limited noneconomic damages against doctors to $500,000 and against private hospitals to $1,000,000.
Judge Larsen found it unnecessary to consider the plaintiffs’ other constitutional arguments, because their first argument on separation of powers was sufficient to dispose of the constitutional question. In so ruling, she relied on the Illinois Supreme Court’s decision in Best v. Taylor Machine Works (1997), which invalidated a previous non-economic damage cap. Because the 2005 law contained an inseverability clause, Judge Larsen held the entire act unconstitutional, including provisions for periodic payments, restrictions on expert testimony, requirements for a certificate of merit, and an evidentiary protection against admissions of liability. CCL President Peck called the victory was “gratifying.” He noted that, like every state constitution, the “Illinois Constitution gives the state legislature no power to render a judicial judgment and no right to take away the jury’s authority to determine the proper compensation when liability is proven.”
Illinois Trial Lawyers Association President Bruce Kohen praised the decision as “an important victory for the rule of law and constitutional government over the rule of special interests.” He added that “today’s ruling provides further confirmation that, despite the power and influence of the insurance lobby, laws that violate the state’s Constitution will not stand.”
The Defendants are expected to appeal, and the Illinois Supreme Court could hear the matter as early as next summer.
The Center for Constitutional Litigation (CCL) is a law firm that focuses its practice on access to justice issues. The American Association for Justice often retains CCL to assist state trial lawyers in challenging laws that impede that access.