Murnane: Illinois med-mal caps bill likely to die

Chris Rizo Mar. 9, 2010, 12:47pm

Ed Murnane

Dave Luechtefeld (R)

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (Legal Newsline)-Illinois lawmakers will not likely give voters the opportunity -- at least this year -- to allow the General Assembly to adopt caps on medical malpractice awards, a leading tort reform advocate said.

A proposed constitutional amendment is pending in the Legislature that would prevent the state's Supreme Court from overturning future medical malpractice reform laws.

Last month, the high court rejected the state's damage cap at $500,000 for doctors and $1 million for hospitals.

The leader of the Illinois Civil Justice League, Ed Murnane, said it is unlikely the measure will clear the Statehouse so the question can go before voters in the November general election.

"This is such a hot issue in Illinois -- particularly after the recent Supreme Court ruling -- that it is unlikely that what is essentially a hostile Legislature will overturn a Supreme Court ruling," Murnane told Legal Newsline.

But despite the odds that the constitutional amendment proposed by state Sen. Dave Luechtefeld, R-Okawville, will fail to clear the General Assembly, Murnane had this message for state lawmakers: the push for legal reforms is not going to dissipate.

"Voters want reform and legislators like Senator Luechtefeld should keep pushing," Murnane said. "If this doesn't work, we can find other remedies and push once more."

A possible next step is going directly to the voters.

"This is not going to go away; the trial lawyers will be blocked eventually," said Murnane, who also serves as chairman of the American Tort Reform Association.

If approved by voters, Luechtefeld's proposal would add a new section to Article 4 of the Illinois Constitution that lawmakers can pass legislation that places caps on noneconomic damages, such as pain and suffering.

Luechtefeld's proposal will likely get a chilly reception from the General Assembly's leadership since Democrats receive so much campaign cash from the trial bar, which is typically opposed to limiting damage awards.

In striking down the cap, the Illinois Supreme Court's 4-2 ruling found that the 2005 law impeded juries' constitutional powers to award settlements in civil cases.

In delivering the majority opinion, Chief Justice Thomas Fitzgerald said the state's $500,000 cap on noneconomic damages was arbitrary.

"Although agreeing with the defendants that noneconomic damages are difficult to assess, we determined that such difficulty was not alleviated by imposing an arbitrary damages limitation in all cases, without regard to the facts or circumstances," Fitzgerald wrote.

The case heard by the Illinois Supreme Court centered on the severe disability of a young girl, Abigaile Lebron, who suffered a brain injury as she was being delivered by a doctor and nurse at Gottlieb Memorial Hospital in a Chicago suburb.

From Legal Newsline: Reach staff reporter Chris Rizo at

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