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Illinois Revises Medical Malpractice Law

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Springfield, ILOn February 4, 2010 the Illinois Supreme Court voted against the state's medical malpractice law and decided that limits on damages awarded to victims of medical negligence are unconstitutional. Now, Illinois patients may have greater access to health care and lower medical liability rates. The state capped damages several years ago.

span itemprop="image" itemscope itemtype="" style="display:block">The court said the law violates the state's separation-of-powers clause between the branches of government by allowing lawmakers to interfere with a jury's right to determine damages. At the same time, judges said they were "sympathetic" to providers of medical care: the ruling slams doctors and hospital officials who say caps on damages are a way to tame rising health care costs.

Two years ago a political debate raged in Springfield between trial lawyers and providers of medical care and their insurers. Many physicians - particularly neurosurgeons and obstetricians who typically have higher insurance premiums - were leaving the state of Illinois in droves, and doctors blamed it on lack of malpractice reform. This latest decision has upset the medical community again; doctors say a return to high premiums and another loss of physicians are likely.

It is yet to be determined whether medical malpractice lawsuits affect the quality and costs of medical care. According to the state insurance division, in 2008 the total volume of malpractice premiums written in Illinois was $600 million, down 10 percent from 2006.

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