The constitutionality of Illinois’ limit on certain damage awards is being challenged by a plaintiff’s attorney in a Cook County circuit court.

The law, which went into effect in 2005, caps non-economic liability at $500,000 for physicians and $1 million for hospitals in medical malpractice cases. It restricts such awards as punitive damages or compensation for pain and suffering. Economic damages—including medical costs, other necessary care, lost wages and future earning potential—are not capped. These awards are set on the basis of mathematical formulas that determine actual dollar amounts.

More than 30 states have similar caps, according to the Illinois State Medical Society (ISMS), which says they have “proven effective in containing litigation costs.”

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ISMS president Peter Eupierre, MD, said the state has “an urgent need to preserve” the restrictions. “If this rollback succeeds, it will drive doctors from the state and medical care costs will skyrocket,” Dr. Eupierre said. “We’re optimistic that the [court] will affirm the value of these reforms to patient care.”

Last November, in a pending case, attorneys for a severely brain-damaged one-year-old girl filed suit against the hospital where she was born, as well as against the attending doctor and nurse. Among other things, the plaintiffs claim the caps violate the state constitution’s separation of powers, its guarantee of the right to a jury trial, and a prohibition against “special legislation.”