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In a case that could resonate in Washington, the Illinois Supreme Court on Thursday overturned the state’s five-year-old medical malpractice law because it limited compensation to injured patients for pain, suffering and other non-economic harms.

The ruling came down as federal proposals to cap malpractice awards are receiving fresh attention on Capitol Hill. Republicans enthusiastically support the limits, and they are seen as a potential vehicle for restarting the stalled health care negotiations in Congress with bipartisan impetus. Neither the House bill that Democrats passed late last year nor its Senate counterpart included significant changes to medical malpractice regulations.

In a 4-to-2 ruling, the Illinois court wrote that the legislature, in enacting the 2005 law, violated the state Constitution’s separation of powers clause by imposing decisions that should be reserved for judges and juries. The law established caps of $500,000 for non-economic damages in verdicts against doctors and $1 million in cases against hospitals.

The decision armed opponents of such provisions with fresh ammunition, and held a particular sting for the American Medical Association, which has its headquarters in Chicago.


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