Christopher T. Tucker
Attorneys at Law
Barbour, Sokolowski & Tucker, L.L.C.

474 HWY P
O'Fallon, MO 63366
Office: (636) 294-8181
Facsimile: (636) 294-6001
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Illinois Case Law

On February 4, 2010 in the case Lebron v. Gottlieb Memorial Hospital, Docket No. : 105741, the Illinois Supreme Court upheld the ruling made by the Circuit Court of Cook County which found that statutory caps on noneconomic damages in medical malpractice cases violate the separation of powers clause of the Illinois Constitution (Ill. Const. 1970, art. II, Sec. 1). On October 31, 2005 minor plaintiff Lebron was delivered by Caesarean section. Plaintiff, by her mother, alleged that as a direct result of certain acts and omissions by Gottlieb Memorial Hospital and others that Lebron sustained numerous permanent injuries, including severe brain injury, cerebral palsy, cognitive mental impairment, inability to be fed normally such that she must be fed by gastronomy tube, and inability to develop normal neurological function. Just prior to that on August 25, 2005 the Illinois’ Legislature enacted several amendments into law by Public Act 94-677 which among other things capped the amount of noneconomic damages that victims of medical malpractice could recover due to the negligence of healthcare providers. This law capped noneconomic damages one could recover against a hospital at $1,000,000, and $500,000 against a physician. Plaintiff Lebron, by her mother, alleged that she sustained disability, disfigurement, and pain and suffering to the extent that damages for those injuries would greatly exceed the caps set forth in the amended law.

Lebron alleged that caps on her damages violated the separation of powers clause of the Illinois Constitution (Ill. Const. 1970, art. II, sec. 1) by permitting the Legislature to supplant the Judiciary’s authority in determining whether remittitur is appropriate under the facts of the case. Remittitur is a special power reserved for the trial judge to determine after careful consideration whether a jury’s verdict is excessive given the particular facts and evidence presented in the case. If the trial judge determines the verdict is excessive then the court has the power to reduce the verdict to conform to the facts and evidence presented in the case. In addition, Lebron alleged that caps on her damages constituted improper special legislation (Ill. Const. 1970, art. IV, sec. 13) in that caps on noneconomic damages granted limited liability specially and without just cause to a select group of health care providers. Further, Lebron alleged that caps on her damages violated her right to trial by jury (Ill. Const. 1970, art. I, sec. 13), due process (Ill. Const. 1970, art. I, sec. 2), equal protection (Ill. Const. 1970, art. I, sec. 2), and a certain and complete remedy for her damages (Ill. Const. 1970, art. I, sec. 12).

The Supreme Court analyzed prior precedent where the Legislature enacted legislation imposing limitations on a plaintiff’s damages, and determined that caps on noneconomic damages as in prior precedent invaded the Judiciary’s sphere of authority to determine whether a jury verdict is excessive. Prior precedent revealed that unlike the traditional remittitur power of the Judiciary, legislative remittitur disregards the jury’s careful deliberative process in determining damages that will fairly compensate injured plaintiffs who have proven their causes of action. Caps on damages are mandatory and operate wholly apart from the specific evidence presented to a jury concerning a particular plaintiff’s noneconomic injuries. Legislative remittitur encroaches upon the fundamentally judicial prerogative of determining whether a jury’s assessment of damages is excessive within the meaning of the law. The Supreme Court invalidated the caps and remanded the case back to the trial court for the jury to consider the issues in the case, including Lebron’s allegations of damages.

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