Illinois tort reform caps damages
■ Grassroots efforts by doctors helped win over public opinion, the state medical society says.
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After years of working for tort reform, Illinois physicians stand poised to receive some relief, as lawmakers approved legislation that would set a $500,000 cap on noneconomic damages in medical liability lawsuits.
The cap, which will not increase with inflation, is the centerpiece of the bill, which Gov. Rod Blagojevich is expected to sign. The legislation also calls for higher standards for expert witness testimony and a stronger certificate-of-merit clause. In addition, the bill would set a $1 million cap on noneconomic damages for hospitals.
While it's not the $250,000 cap consistently sought by the AMA and states fighting for tort reform, the measure is a "significant step in the right direction," said Craig A. Backs, MD, president of the Illinois State Medical Society.
"It's safe to say we would not have written the package as it is coming out, but the legislative process is one of compromise," Dr. Backs said. "I would encourage physicians in Illinois to take a serious look at this as a total package. We feel very good about this."
"The momentum came from the perception and the reality that physicians in Illinois saw no hope," Dr. Backs said. "They were leaving the state when they had the opportunity because of medical liability."
Illinois is one of 20 states the AMA has declared to be in crisis because of rising liability insurance premiums.
Kevin Conway, president of the Illinois Trial Lawyers Assn., said the bill will reward insurance companies, but no one else. "They have not said they will reduce or roll back rates one cent with the passage of this bill," he said.
Once the measure becomes law, a court challenge is virtually guaranteed. The Illinois Supreme Court has twice struck down caps on noneconomic damages, the most recent ruling occurring in 1997.
But Dr. Backs was confident this had a better chance of withstanding such a challenge. "I think we've done the best we possibly can to address what's been pointed out by the court in the past," he said.