DAMAGES LIMITATIONS STRUCK DOWN BY ILLINOIS JUDGE
As previously noted in my September 20, 2007 entry, trial lawyers across Illinois were holding their breath, waiting for an important decision out of the courtroom of Judge Diane Larsen, a Cook County trial judge. Judge Larsen was presiding over a case where recent legislation that capped damages in medical malpractice cases was being challenged. Specifically, the 2005 legislation had capped “non-economic” damages, or pain and suffering, at $500,000. In other words, the law provided that regardless of the circumstances, no successful Illinois plaintiff could recover more than $500,000 for pain and suffering. I am absolutely delighted to report that on November 14, 2007, Judge Larsen struck down that law. Judge Larsen correctly noted that the limitation placed on damages by the legislation violated the Separation of Powers clause in the Illinois Constituation. In effect, Judge Larsen noted that the legislation impermissibly permitted lawmakers down in Springfield to interfere with the responsiblity of a civil jury – determining the fair and reasonable amount of damages that can be awarded. In effect, the Judge ruled that a bunch of legislators, sitting down in Springfield, had no business, nor any right, to insert themselves arbitrarily into the evaluation of damages aspects of lawsuits. After all, it is the jury who sits through the trial, sees the exhibits, hears the witnesses and listens to the arguments of the lawyers trying the case. Isn’t the jury then, in a much better position to decide the value of a case as opposed to a legislator who knows absolutely nothing about that case? The “tort deform” movement[i.e. insurance companies, various Republicans and other regugnant life forms] spearheaded this legislation using fabricated scare tactics about doctors fleeing the state because of the “insurance crisis”. That explanation, of course, is nonsense. Premiums are going up because insurance companies have made very poor investment choices. So insurance companies had a choice – be candid with their insureds and admit they made bad business decisions, or, distract their insureds with carnival-like sideshows. The insurance choice? Go with the sideshows. That explains why you see rallies downstate with doctors in their finely pressed white smocks moaning about “runaway verdicts”. The tort deformers will go to great lengths to keep their insureds in the dark. Not suprisingly, the forces of darkness have vowed to appeal Judge Larsen’s ruling. Hopefully the Supreme Court of Illinois will do the right thing and uphold her decision.