Opinion: Prognosis for Illinois Medical Torts Is Quite Uncertain

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Illinois Trial Lawyers Association President Philip Harnett Corboy Jr. is entitled to his opinion about why medical liability insurance premiums have stabilized somewhat in Illinois since a 2005 state law reasonably limited plaintiff recoveries for wholly subjective noneconomic damages such as pain and suffering (Letters, Dec. 8).

Despite Mr. Corboy’s insinuation to the contrary, the Illinois law now under review by the state’s highest court in no way limits patients and their families from being made economically whole when health-care providers make mistakes. Rather, in seeking to balance the rights of individuals who deserve compensation with those of all citizens of Illinois seeking access to life-saving, high-risk medical care, the law merely imposes limits on noneconomic damages as has been done in Texas, California, Mississippi, Colorado and other states.

No one I know would argue with Mr. Corboy when he says that the case of little Abigaile LeBron is heartbreaking, and certainly her family should be fully compensated for the cost of her continuing care. But only a few years ago, remember, many Illinois residents found access to high-risk specialists increasingly difficult because an unbalanced medical liability system made practicing in the state for such physicians a losing proposition. The elected leaders of Illinois should be commended for enacting a balanced reform law which has gone a long way to restoring access to critical health care for its citizens.

Tiger Joyce
President
American Tort Reform Association
Washington

The President of the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association relates the heart-rending plight of three-year-old Abigaile LeBron. There is a curious omission, however: How much of the award goes to her lawyers, presumably operating on a contingency fee basis? Is it 30%, 40% or 50%? And why are juries not allowed to know about the defendent lawyers compensation arrangement? The statement that ” . . . corporations and profit-hungry executives often stack the decks . . . ” is rich. Anyone who has been called for jury duty has observed plaintiff (civil) or defendant (criminal) lawyers doing their level best to stack juries their way. And as a retired army officer and physician, I’ve never been selected for a jury panel, raising the question of what an attorney’s notion of “a jury of average citizens” might be.

Stanton R. Brown, M.D.
Lakewood, Wash.

Much good has come to pass on the Illinois medical-care front since 2005, when state policymakers stepped up to enact comprehensive medical litigation reforms (“Messing with Malpractice Reform,” Review & Outlook, Dec. 1). Daily media reports of doctors fleeing the state’s toxic legal climate and skyrocketing malpractice insurance premiums have subsided. Access to medical care is much improved.

Despite these positive signs, trial lawyers are predictably attacking the law’s constitutionality. Also watching the legal forecast are the bright, young physicians-in-training at Illinois’ eight medical schools. Many of them already opt to leave after graduation; this in a time of looming physician shortages.

Over the last 30-plus years, Illinois lawmakers repeatedly passed litigation reforms, each time improving the law’s language after the court struck it down. In 2005, the legislature again reached bipartisan agreement to cap noneconomic damage awards in malpractice lawsuits at $500,000 for doctors and $1 million for hospitals. Further, it imposed strict regulation on liability insurers and the medical community to assure better health care for the state’s 12 million residents.

Thirty-five states have already adopted similar reforms. In doing so, they have cast sunnier futures for patient care.

We salute the Journal for calling on the Illinois Supreme Court to “side with patients and the rule of law” in upholding medical litigation reforms for Illinois.

Shastri Swaminathan, M.D.
President
Illinois State Medical Society
Chicago

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