Tort reform is a hot button issue these days. Many states, including Texas, Georgia and Mississippi, have passed or are considering passing legislation that limits the amount of non-economic damages that plaintiffs can recover in medical malpractice cases. In some states, plaintiffs are challenging the constitutionality of such laws, arguing that they are an unconstitutional denial of their right to jury trial. For instance, Missouri’s Supreme Court recently struck down a $350,000 cap on jury awards for “pain and suffering” in medical malpractice cases, finding the law to be a violation of a patient’s right to a jury trial.
But not all appellate courts agree with the Missouri Supreme Court and similar opinions. Last week, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Mississippi’s $1 million limit on noneconomic damages in personal injury cases, finding the law to be constitutional.
In the case at issue – Learmonth v. Sears, Roebuck & Co. – a federal jury had found Sears liable for causing Ms. Learmonth’s injuries in an automobile accident and awarded the plaintiff $4 million in compensatory damages. A federal district court subsequently determined that of the damages award, $2.2 million was for noneconomic damages and it, thereby, reduced this portion of the damages award to $1 million pursuant to Mississippi law.
According to Legal Newsline, the plaintiff appealed the decision, arguing that the noneconomic damage cap infringes on two rights encompassed by the right to a jury trial: (1) the right to have a jury alone find the proper compensatory damages amount, and (2) the right to have the jury’s determination of compensatory damages converted into a legally binding judgment of equal value. The Fifth Circuit also rejected the reasoning of a minority of courts (like the Missouri Supreme Court) that have struck down similar noneconomic damages caps as unconstitutional, finding that “this line of decisions seems to contradict ‘the usual notion that the law prescribes the remedy and its measure.’”
What This Case Means For You
Illinois currently does not have damage caps on medical malpractice or personal injury verdicts. Any legislative attempts to invoke damages caps have been ruled unconstitutional by the Illinois Supreme Court as recently as February 2011. Nonetheless, the decision is troublesome for plaintiffs and advocates for plaintiffs’ rights. While tort reform advocates claim that the fear of medical malpractice lawsuits costs the health care industry billions of dollars every year, a recent study revealed that tort reform is ineffective at reducing health care spending.
At Ankin Law Office, LLC our Chicago medical malpractice attorneys are committed to protecting the rights of victims of medical malpractice and their families. Tort reform and damage caps undoubtedly hurt patients and the general public by failing to hold doctors, hospitals and other medical professionals financially responsible for their injuries or deaths that they have caused.
If you or a loved one has been the victim of medical malpractice, do not hesitate to contact our office at (312) 600-0000 to schedule a free consultation.