On Thursday, November 13, 2008, the Illinois Supreme Court heard oral arguments from attorneys representing the various parties in the case of Lebron v. Gottlieb Memorial Hospital Nos. 105741 and 105745. The main issue of contention was whether or not there should be caps on non-economic damages in Illinois medical malpractice cases.
Lebron is appealed directly from the Cook County Circuit Court following a decision by Circuit Court Judge Diane J. Larsen that caps on damages were unconstitutional. These caps were enacted as part of an amendment to the Medical Malpractice Act. The caps dealt specifically with non-economic damages and imposed a legal limit of $500,000 for physicians and healthcare professionals, whereas the cap for hospitals is $1 million.
Lebron was originally filed as an Illinois birth injury case against Gottlieb Memorial Hospital in 2005 after plaintiffs’ daughter was born with birth defects as a result of substandard care at the hospital and negligence on the part of the staff there.
Former U.S. solicitor general Theodore B. Olson presented the first oral argument on behalf of defendants. The core of the Olson argument was that the Illinois Supreme Court has acknowledged in the past that there is a healthcare crisis and that the malpractice caps law was an attempt to solve that problem.
In response to Olson’s assertion, several Illinois Supreme Court justices questioned how the proposed medical malpractice caps could conform with the decision in Best v. Taylor Machine Works, 179 Ill.2d 267 (1997). Best held that a law limiting damages in tort claims was unconstitutional because it violated the state Constitution’s prohibition on special legislation and the principle of separation of powers.
Another attorney arguing for defendant Gottlieb Memorial Hospital, said that the law struck down in Best favored some groups over others, whereas the medical malpractice caps law “makes everyone a little unhappy” by requiring sacrifices by insurers, hospitals, doctors and healthcare consumers alike.
Also arguing for the defendants was Illinois Solicitor General Michael A. Scodro who argued that the law struck down in Best was a tort reform act, whereas Lebron was about a comprehensive healthcare law.
Michael H. Gottesman of Georgetown University Law Center argued on behalf of plaintiffs that the medical malpractice caps law violated the special legislation clause of the Constitution by favoring plaintiffs with lesser non-economic injuries over those who deserve a greater recovery. It is also argued that the law favored higher wage earners because it placed no limit on economic damages, such as lost wages. Gottesman argued that “Best stands for the proposition that limits on damages are unconstitutional.”
To watch the oral arguments for Lebron v. Gottlieb Memorial Hospital, click here.