Challenging Times for Tort Reform

In a decision that legal experts see as part of a national trend by the plaintiffs’ bar to overturn damage caps, the Illinois Supreme Court last Thursday struck down a state law capping noneconomic damages in medical malpractice cases. Similar to laws in other states, the 2005 law had capped pain-and-suffering damages in medical malpractice cases at $500,000 against doctors and $1 million against hospitals. The Wall Street Journal Law Blog notes that many state supreme courts have upheld the constitutionality of damage limits, but the issue is currently being weighed by high courts in Georgia, Kansas, and Missouri. It quotes Mark Behrens, a lawyer with Shook, Hardy & Bacon, saying that the other courts opposed to caps may cite the decision as support, but “I doubt it will change many minds.† A February 8 op-ed in the Chicago Tribune by blogger, writer and consultant Dennis Byrne observes that the Illinois Supreme Court decision sets bad public policy. Byrne says the law was effective, helping reduce medical costs and stemming the departure of Illinois health care providers because of excessively high malpractice insurance costs. A recent study by the American Tort Reform Association (ATRA) reported on the coordinated efforts of personal injury lawyers to increase litigation and repeal or chip away at existing tort reform statutes.  Evidence suggests that over the course of decades tort reform has had a beneficial impact on the U.S. economy, spurring growth. According to the Pacific Research Institute (PRI), states with a fair, predictable tort system have stronger revenue outlooks, better job growth and more favorable prospects for economic growth. Check out I.I.I. information on medical malpractice. Check out a recent I.I.I. paper on The Tort Threat.

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