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Tort Reform: An issue To Be Aware Of During Election Season

Election season is very busy with vacancies on the Illinois Supreme Court, the Illinois Appellate Court and the Circuit Court of Cook County in the upcoming Primary Election to be held on March 20, 2012. One issue that is often not at the forefront of voters’ minds is tort reform. Todd A. Smith of Power Rogers & Smith, L.L.P. has discussed tort reform everywhere from the courtroom to CNN and everywhere in between. Mr. Smith believes that tort reform is an issue that voters must be aware of prior to punching the ballot in favor of a candidate.

Mr. Smith has been in multiple positions as a representative of plaintiffs and plaintiff’s attorneys where he has been the spokesperson for plaintiffs across the country. A couple of Mr. Smith’s distinguished positions have been serving as the President of the American Association for Justice as well as President of the Illinois Trial Lawyer’s Association. While in these positions, Mr. Smith has used various avenues to address tort reform. Below are some key points that he has expressed.

In 2005, Illinois enacted an arbitrary $500,000 cap on the total amount of non-economic damages recoverable by patients in medical malpractice cases against doctors and an arbitrary $1 million cap in cases against hospitals. (This was eventually overruled by the Illinois Supreme Court) Those in support of these caps argued that medical malpractice claims were sky rocking which was driving doctors out of Illinois, and raising the overall cost of health care. However, these arguments are not accurate, and through insurance companies’ own information this ‘crisis’ has been proved a myth.

  • Claims and payouts have been stable (based on the insurance companies’ regulatory filings the data shows that since 2000, both frequency and severity of malpractice claims and payouts have been stable)
  • The “judicial hellhole” claim is a myth (the claim that certain counties’ court systems are overflowed with cases based upon the frequency and severity of medical malpractice claims)
  • Insurance companies have enjoyed record profits
  • Increase in insurance rates have been effected by the poor economy rather than medical malpractice claims (as admitted by insurance companies)
  • Insurance reform, not caps on medical malpractice tort reform, will deal with excessive insurance rates
  • Medical malpractice claims have had little effect on hospitals’ bottom line
  • The claim that physicians are leaving Illinois is not factual based (the number of doctors in Illinois has actually increased every year since 1963)

These are just some of the points that are important in acknowledging in regards to the tort reform debate. While tort reform is not the only issue that must be looked at when voting, it is definitely something that voters must be aware of. The court system is a place where injured people have the opportunity to present their case, and if medical malpractice caps are instituted, that arena could be vastly changed. Therefore, please be aware of the ramifications of tort reform.

With election season upon us, please spend time looking into the candidates and realizing the impact that your vote has.