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Illinois high court strikes down malpractice limits

It's for the third time, and confirms that the court simply will not be bound by the duly enacted acts of the legislature when certain issues important to its lawyer constituency are at stake. I made these comments for the Heartland Institute:

"The court's supposed separation of powers rationale simply can't be taken seriously. Legislatures pass new laws prescribing the legal consequences of civil breaches all the time, and no one imagines that the court would have struck down this legislative intervention had it expanded damages as opposed to limiting them.

"At this point, if Illinois wants to put the voters and their representatives back in charge, it will need either to alter its constitution or--perhaps a better idea--alter the composition of its supreme court."

On page 21 of its opinion, the court has to confront the fact that the Illinois legislature has often limited common law damages in other circumstances without being found unconstitutional. An Innkeeper's Protection Act, for example, limits the liability of hotel owners to a fixed sum no matter what the value of the goods lost by the guest. The court absurdly seeks to distinguish this instance by noting that the innkeeper statute "also allows the parties to contract around the statutory limit." As if it would have upheld malpractice limits had they been paired with an option of contracting around the statutory limit!

The court's decision yesterday, like its earlier two decisions striking down medical liability limits, is lawless. It is best understood as a peremptory act of will and a power play in the familiar, if ugly, tradition of Illinois politics.

P.S. From the ABA: we disagree with the Illinois statute's policy content. Must be unconstitutional! More coverage: Chicago Tribune, Chicago Daily Law Bulletin, Madison County Record, Dan Pero/American Courthouse. And a strong editorial reaction from the Chicago Tribune ("A disastrous decision"):

...The court threw out a sound law that has worked. The court threw out a sound law and essentially told the state's lawmakers: Don't even bother to try this again. ...

Justice Lloyd Karmeier, joined in a dissent by Justice Rita Garman, wrote that the court's wisdom in that previous decision "has not only been rejected by the federal courts, it has failed to carry the day in any reported decision in any other state in the United States since it was filed 12 years ago."

Nobody has recognized the wisdom of the Illinois Supreme Court on this matter ... except the Illinois Supreme Court.

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Rafael Mangual
Project Manager,
Legal Policy

Manhattan Institute


Published by the Manhattan Institute

The Manhattan Insitute's Center for Legal Policy.