Appeal from Circuit Court, Madison County. TRIAL JUDGE: Hon. David R. Herndon. Case Numbers: TR96L167, TR96L182.
The Honorable Justice McMORROW delivered the opinion of the court. Justice Heiple took no part in the consideration or decision of this case. Justice Bilandic, specially concurring. Justice Miller, concurring in part and dissenting in part.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Mcmorrow
The Honorable Justice McMORROW delivered the opinion of the court:
This consolidated appeal arises from two personal injury tort actions filed in the circuit court of Madison County, in which the plaintiffs sought declaratory and injunctive relief against enforcement of "An Act to amend certain Acts in relation to civil actions, *** the Civil Justice Reform Amendments of 1995." Pub. Act 89-7, eff. March 9, 1995 (hereafter Public Act 89-7 or the Act). In both cases, plaintiffs sought partial summary judgment on the grounds that the Act violated the Illinois Constitution of 1970. The circuit court of Madison County held the following provisions of Public Act 89-7 unconstitutional: (1) the $500,000 limit on compensatory damages for noneconomic injuries (735 ILCS 5/2-1115.1 (West 1996)), (2) the allocation of fault and several liability provisions (735 ILCS 5/2-1116, 2-1117 (West 1996)), (3) the amendments to the Joint Tortfeasor Contribution Act (740 ILCS 100/3.5, 5 (West 1996)), (4) certain jury instructions (735 ILCS 5/2-1107.1 (West 1996)), (5) the product liability certificate of merit (735 ILCS 5/2-623 (West 1996)), (6) the product liability statute of repose (735 ILCS 5/13-213(b) (West 1996)), (7) the product liability presumptions (735 ILCS 5/2-2103, 2-2104, 2-2106 (West 1996)) and (8) the discovery statutes which require mandatory disclosure of all of plaintiffs' medical information and records (735 ILCS 5/2-1003, 8-802, 8-2001, 8-2003 (West 1996)). The court also held that Public Act 89-7 is unconstitutional as a whole.
Defendants timely appealed the circuit court's order to this court, and we consolidated the cases. We allowed the Attorney General, James E. Ryan, to intervene to defend the constitutionality of Public Act 89-7.
We also granted the following organizations leave to submit briefs amicus curiae : (1) Illinois Hospital & Healthsystems Association and the Metropolitan Chicago Healthcare Council, (2) Illinois State Medical Society, (3) Product Liability Advisory Council, Inc., (4) Illinois Manufacturers' Association, (5) Illinois Association of Defense Trial Counsel, (6) Illinois Civil Justice League, (7) Illinois State Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organization and Ironworker's District Council of Greater Chicago, (8) Illinois State Council of Senior Citizens, Families Advocating Injury Reduction (FAIR), Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees (UNITE), Coalition for Consumer Rights, Citizen Action/Illinois Chapter, Metro Seniors in Action, Tenth Congressional District AFL-CIO, Champaign County Health Care Consumers, Citizen Advocacy Center and Coalition of Citizens With Disabilities in Illinois, (9) Illinois State Bar Association, (10) National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the Cook County Bar Association, (11) Illinois NOW Legal and Education Fund and Breast Implant Information Exchange, (12) Chicago Bar Association and (13) the Brotherhood of Heat and Frost Insulators, Local 17, and the Southeast Environmental Task Force.
The parties agree that Public Act 89-7 effects substantial changes to numerous aspects of tort law. The parties further agree that the challenged provisions of Public Act 89-7 pertain primarily to personal injury actions as distinct from business-related torts, defamation, or other actions not involving physical injury. There is also no dispute that the heart of Public Act 89-7 is the $500,000 limit on compensatory damages for injuries that are considered "non-economic" in nature (735 ILCS 5/2-1115.1 (West 1996)).
Defendants characterize the Act as a legitimate reform measure that is within the scope of the Illinois General Assembly's power to change the common law, shape public policy, and regulate the state's economic health. Plaintiffs counter that the Act uses the guise of reform to erect arbitrary and irrational barriers to meritorious claims, and, therefore, that the Act violates the Illinois Constitution of 1970. Specifically, plaintiffs maintain that the following constitutional provisions are violated by various aspects of the legislation at issue: special legislation (Ill. Const. 1970, art. IV, § 13), equal protection and due process (Ill. Const. 1970, art. I, § 2), separation of powers (Ill. Const. 1970, art. II, § 1), right to a jury (Ill. Const. 1970, art. I, § 13) and right to a certain remedy (Ill. Const. 1970, art. I, § 12).
The role of this court in considering the constitutionality of Public Act 89-7 is not to judge the prudence of the General Assembly's decision that reform of the civil justice system is needed. We recognize that we should not and need not balance the advantages and disadvantages of reform. See People v. Warren, 173 Ill. 2d 348, 219 Ill. Dec. 533, 671 N.E.2d 700 (1996); see also Cutinello v. Whitley, 161 Ill. 2d 409, 204 Ill. Dec. 136, 641 N.E.2d 360 (1994). Rather, as the highest court in this state, we must determine the meaning and effect of the Illinois Constitution in light of the challenges made to the legislation in issue. Warren, 173 Ill. 2d at 355-56.
Courts should begin any constitutional analysis with the presumption that the challenged legislation is constitutional ( People v. Shephard, 152 Ill. 2d 489, 178 Ill. Dec. 724, 605 N.E.2d 518 (1992)), and it is the plaintiff's burden to clearly establish that the challenged provisions are unconstitutional ( Bernier v. Burris, 113 Ill. 2d 219, 100 Ill. Dec. 585, 497 N.E.2d 763 (1986)). However, the Illinois Constitution is not a grant, but a limitation on legislative power. People v. Chicago Transit Authority, 392 Ill. 77, 64 N.E.2d 4 (1945); Italia America Shipping Corp. v. Nelson, 323 Ill. 427, 154 N.E. 198 (1926); Taylorville Sanitary District v. Winslow, 317 Ill. 25, 147 N.E. 401 (1925). It is this court's duty to interpret the law and to protect the rights of individuals against acts beyond the scope of the legislative power. People ex rel. Huempfner v. Benson, 294 Ill. 236, 128 N.E. 387 (1920). If a statute is unconstitutional, this court is obligated to declare it invalid. Wilson v. Department of Revenue, 169 Ill. 2d 306, 662 N.E.2d 415, 214 Ill. Dec. 849 (1996). This duty cannot be evaded or neglected, no matter how desirable or beneficial the legislation may appear to be. Wilson, 169 Ill. 2d at 310; Grasse v. Dealer's Transport Co., 412 Ill. 179, 190, 106 N.E.2d 124 (1952).
For the reasons stated below, we determine that the following provisions of Public Act 89-7 violate the Illinois Constitution: (1) the limitation on compensatory damages for noneconomic injury (735 ILCS 5/2-1115.1 (West 1996)), (2) section 3.5(a) of the Joint Tortfeasor Contribution Act (740 ILCS 100/3.5(a) (West 1996)), (3) the abolition of joint and several liability (735 ILCS 5/2-1117 (West 1996)), and (4) the discovery statutes which mandate the unlimited disclosure of plaintiffs' medical information and records (735 ILCS 5/2-1003, 8-802, 8-2001, 8-2003 (West 1996)). We further hold that because these unconstitutional provisions may not be severed from the remainder of the act, Public Act 89-7 as a whole is invalid.
Plaintiff, Vernon Best, was injured on July 24, 1995, while he was operating a forklift for his employer, Laclede Steel Company, in Alton, Illinois. The forklift was designed and manufactured by Taylor Machine Works (Taylor) and sold by Allied Industrial Equipment Corporation (Allied). Best sustained injuries when the forklift's mast and support assembly collapsed while Best was moving slabs of hot steel. As a result of the collapse, flammable hydraulic fluid manufactured by Lee Helms, Inc. (Helms), ignited and engulfed Best in a fireball. While on fire, Best leaped from the cab of the forklift and fractured both heels. Best also suffered second and third degree burns over 40% of his body, including his face, torso, arms and hands.
Best filed a product liability action seeking damages against Taylor, Allied and Helms. In his amended complaint, Best alleges that the forklift and hydraulic fluid were defective and not reasonably safe. As to Taylor and Allied, Best alleges strict product liability, negligence, breaches of implied and express warranties, and breach of warranty for a particular purpose. As to Helms, Best alleges strict product liability, negligence and breach of implied warranty.
Best alleges that he sustained lost earnings, he anticipates diminished future earnings, he has incurred past medical expenses, and he will incur future medical expenses as a result of his injuries. Best anticipates that he will need vocational rehabilitation and convalescent care because of his injuries. He further alleges that his injuries are severe, disfiguring and permanent. Best states that he has suffered and will continue to suffer from grievous pain and anguish from his injuries. He further asserts that he has had a painful and lengthy experience as a patient in a hospital burn unit, and has undergone numerous surgeries.
In his amended complaint, Best seeks compensatory damages for all injuries. Best alleges that he has and will incur noneconomic damages in excess of $500,000. He also seeks declaratory and injunctive relief against Public Act 89-7 on the grounds that the Act violates the Illinois Constitution.
The second action arises out of the death of 20-year-old Steven Kelso, who was killed by a train at a railroad crossing in Madison County, Illinois, on December 12, 1995. At the time of his death, Kelso was driving a truck for his employer. Union Pacific owned the train that killed Kelso, and Donald Cain operated the train at the time of Kelso's death.
Plaintiff Jonathan Isbell, the administrator of Kelso's estate, filed a complaint against Union Pacific and Cain. In the complaint, Isbell alleges that the train that killed Kelso was negligently operated. He states that the train's speed was excessive, it did not adequately warn of its approach, and it failed to slow or stop before the crash. The complaint also alleges that the railroad crossing was negligently constructed, inspected, and maintained, with inadequate warning signals and other deficiencies. Isbell seeks damages under the Wrongful Death Act (740 ILCS 180/1 (West 1996)), the Probate Act of 1975 (755 ILCS 5/27-6 (West 1996)) and the Rights of Married Persons Act (750 ILCS 65/15 (West 1996)). Like Best, Isbell also seeks declaratory and injunctive relief challenging the constitutionality of Public Act 89-7.
In the circuit court, defendants in both actions moved to dismiss the counts for declaratory and injunctive relief, on the grounds that the constitutionality of Public Act 89-7 was not ripe for adjudication. Both plaintiffs filed motions for partial summary judgment on those counts, and entreated the circuit court to invalidate Public Act 89-7. Plaintiffs filed expert opinion affidavits in support of their partial motions for summary judgment. Defendants did not file counteraffidavits.
Upon consolidating the cases, the circuit court denied defendants' motions to dismiss, and granted plaintiffs' motions for partial summary judgment. The circuit court ruled that 15 specific provisions of Public Act 89-7 were unconstitutional and that the Act as a whole was unconstitutional. The court noted that the Act overruled more than 70 decisions of this court and the appellate court, and constituted a "wholesale reconstruction of the judiciary." Pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 302(a) (134 Ill. 2d R. 302(a)), defendants appealed directly to this court from the circuit court's order declaring Public Act 89-7 invalid.
Initially, we note that in striking down Public Act 89-7, the circuit court referenced the "demeanor" of the legislature during consideration of the Act, as shown by the legislative history. The history of Public Act 89-7 shows that the Act was initially introduced in the House of Representative as House Bill 20, on November 30, 1994. See generally 25 ILCS 25/2 (West 1994). The legislative synopsis indicates that Public Act 89-7 made "a technical change in a provision relating to product liability actions." House Bill 20 consisted of a suggestion that the word "any" be changed to "a" in the first sentence of section 2-621 of the Code of Civil Procedure (735 ILCS 5/2-621 (West 1992)).
More than two months later, on February 14, 1995, House Bill 20 was released to members of the House as "amended." The amendment to House Bill 20 consisted of 67 pages of text, and mirrors the currently enacted provisions of Public Act 89-7 now before this court. On February 15, 1995, the House Executive Committee held a meeting to consider House Bill 20, and approved it without change. The day following committee approval, House Bill 20 was presented to the full House of Representatives. A majority of the House voted in favor of House Bill 20.
Two weeks later, the Illinois Senate Judiciary Committee held a two-day hearing to consider House Bill 20, and voted to adopt it without change. The bill went to the Senate, where it received the votes necessary for adoption. On March 9, 1995, House Bill 20 was signed into law as Public Act 89-7.
Before the circuit court, plaintiffs argued, and the court agreed, that the "fast track" stratagem adopted by the bill's proponents was designed to curtail deliberation of the bill. Defendants agree that the passage of Public Act 89-7 was swift and drew significant objections on the grounds that adequate time for debate was lacking. However, defendants contend that this fact is not relevant to the determination of the constitutional issues before this court. Because the manner in which Public Act 89-7 was passed is not dispositive of the merits of the constitutional challenges raised by plaintiffs, we do not further consider its genesis. We note, however, that the legislative history of Public Act 89-7 may be considered in ascertaining the intent of the legislature if the resolution of an issue so requires. See, e.g., People ex rel. Chicago Bar Ass'n v. State Board of Elections, 136 Ill. 2d 513, 537, 2d 146 Ill. Dec. 126, 558 N.E.2d 89 (1990) (legislative history is relevant to severability analysis).
In the circuit court, pursuant to section 2-615 of the Code of Civil Procedure (735 ILCS 5/2-615 (West 1992)), defendants moved to dismiss plaintiffs' counts for injunctive and declaratory relief on the grounds that they were not ripe for adjudication. The circuit court rejected defendants' arguments and determined that plaintiffs had standing and that the issues were ripe.
Before this court, defendants maintain that the majority of the circuit court's rulings do not involve an actual case or controversy, which is required to sustain an action for declaratory judgment. They argue that the underlying facts and issues in this case are so premature as to require the court to pass judgment on mere abstract propositions of law, or render an advisory opinion.
The question of ripeness requires a determination with respect to whether there is a case or controversy under section 2-701 of the Code of Civil Procedure (735 ILCS 5/2-701 (West 1992)). A complaint for declaratory judgment must recite in sufficient detail an actual and legal controversy between the parties and must demonstrate that the plaintiff is interested in the controversy. First of America Bank, Rockford, N.A. v. Netsch, 166 Ill. 2d 165, 209 Ill. Dec. 657, 651 N.E.2d 1105 (1995) (declaratory judgment actions permit early resolution of dispositive issues, to fix rights of parties before irrevocable change in their positions jeopardizes their claims of right) ; see also Illinois Gamefowl Breeders Ass'n v. Block, 75 Ill. 2d 443, 27 Ill. Dec. 465, 389 N.E.2d 529 (1979). This court has repeatedly held that the declaratory judgment statute must be liberally construed and should not be restricted by unduly technical interpretations. See, e.g., Netsch, 166 Ill. 2d at 174.
We believe that plaintiffs' complaint challenging the constitutionality of Public Act 89-7 portends "the ripening seeds of litigation." Miles Kimball Co. v. Anderson, 128 Ill. App. 3d 805, 807, 84 Ill. Dec. 66, 471 N.E.2d 595 (1984). For example, plaintiff Best asserts a product liability claim to recover compensatory damages for bodily injuries allegedly sustained at the hands of defendants Allied, Taylor, and Helms. Best alleges that his compensatory damages for noneconomic injuries will exceed $500,000. Public Act 89-7, inter alia, limits such damages to $500,000 in all negligence and product liability actions brought on account of death, bodily injury, or physical damage to property. See 735 ILCS 5/2-1115.1 (West 1996). The limitation applies irrespective of whether the court or jury otherwise would have found a larger amount to be appropriate under the facts of the particular case.
We believe that plaintiffs have alleged a sufficient and direct interest in the application of the challenged provisions of Public Act 89-7 to their lawsuits. In deciding the constitutionality of Public Act 89-7 we are not ruling on mere abstract principles of law or prematurely deciding issues in the absence of an actual case or controversy. The course of future litigation in these consolidated cases necessarily will be controlled by resolution of the constitutional challenges to Public Act 89-7. We hold that the issues presented in the instant controversy are ripe for review.
II. The Cap on Noneconomic Damages
Plaintiffs challenge the $500,000 limit on compensatory damages for noneconomic injuries set forth in section 2-1115.1 of the Code of Civil Procedure (735 ILCS 5/2-1115.1 (West 1996)).
A. Background to Section 2-1115.1
Section 2-1115.1(a) provides:
"In all common law, statutory or other actions that seek damages on account of death, bodily injury, or physical damage to property based on negligence, or product liability based on any theory or doctrine, recovery of non-economic damages shall be limited to $500,000 per plaintiff. There shall be no recovery for hedonic damages." 735 ILCS 5/2-1115.1(a) (West 1996).
Section 2-1115.1(d) provides that nothing in section 2-1115.1 shall be construed to create a right to recover noneconomic damages. The statute defines "non-economic damages" as "damages which are intangible, including but not limited to damages for pain and suffering, disability, disfigurement, loss of consortium, and loss of society." 735 ILCS 5/2-1115.2(b) (West 1996). Economic damages, defined as "all damages which are tangible, such as damages for past and future medical expenses, loss of income or earnings and other property loss" (735 ILCS 5/2-1115.2(a) (West 1996)), are not limited. By its terms, the statute defines "compensatory" or "actual" damages as "the sum of economic and non-economic damages." 735 ILCS 5/2-1115.2(c) (West 1996). Thus, compensatory damages, i.e., damages which are intended to make an injured plaintiff whole, are limited by section 2-1115.1.
The cap on compensatory damages for noneconomic injury is, as the parties acknowledge, at the heart of Public Act 89-7. The key role of this cap is reflected in the preamble to the Act, which contains 18 specific "findings" and eight listed "purposes" based on those findings. Eight of the 18 findings in the preamble pertain to noneconomic damages. These findings declare that: (1) limiting noneconomic damages will improve health care in rural Illinois, (2) more than 20 states limit noneconomic damages, (3) the cost of health care has decreased in those states, (4) noneconomic losses have no monetary dimension, and no objective criteria or jurisprudence exists for assessing or reviewing noneconomic damages awards, (5) such awards are highly erratic and depend on subjective preferences of the trier of fact, (6) highly erratic noneconomic damages awards subvert the credibility of such awards and undercut the deterrent function of tort law, (7) such awards must be limited to provide consistency and stability for all parties and society and (8) "a federal executive branch working group" determined that limiting noneconomic damages was the most effective step toward legislative reform of tort law because it reduces litigation costs and expedites settlement.
In addition to the above legislative "findings," the preamble to Public Act 89-7 states legislative "purposes" which relate to the limit on noneconomic damages. These purposes may be summarized as follows: reduce the cost of health care and increase accessibility to health care, promote consistency in awards, reestablish the credibility of the civil justice system, establish parameters or guidelines for noneconomic damages, protect the economic health of the state by decreasing systemic costs, and ensure the affordability of insurance.
The preamble also declares, "It is the public policy of this State that injured persons injured through negligence or deliberate misconduct of another be afforded a legal mechanism to seek compensation for their injuries."
In the circuit court, defendants maintained that the Act and its specified goals represent a return to fairness, predictability, responsibility and rationality in the tort arena. Specifically, defendants argued that the limit on noneconomic damages provides rationality to the system of awarding damages for personal injury.
Plaintiffs, in their motion for partial summary judgment, challenged the legislature's use of chiefly anecdotal evidence to justify the Act. *fn1 Citing a 1992 report from the National Center for State Courts, plaintiffs noted that businesses, not private personal injury plaintiffs, constitute the most active group of litigants in the state. Plaintiffs further argued that the uncontested empirical evidence that they presented in conjunction with their motion clearly shows that the legislative "findings" listed in the preamble do not provide a rational justification for the limitation of compensatory damages for noneconomic injuries. In support, plaintiffs submitted several affidavits with their motion for summary judgment on the constitutionality of section 2-1115.1.
Neil Vidmar, Professor of Social Science and Law at Duke Law School in Durham, North Carolina, submitted an affidavit in which he explains that many of the assertions about medical malpractice litigation contained in the preamble of Public Act 89-7, as well as statements made at the hearing and debates which preceded its passage, have no empirical basis and were based on unsubstantiated perceptions or unreliable data. For example, the perception that damages caps result in a decrease in the number of medical malpractice cases filed was rebutted by the experience in Indiana, a state in which damages caps were adopted in 1975. Vidmar cites studies revealing that Indiana actually has experienced an increase in claims. See E. Kinney, W. Gronfein & T. Gannon, Indiana's Medical Malpractice Act: Results of a Three-Year Study, 24 Ind. L. Rev. 1275, 1286 (1991). Vidmar states that he is aware of no reliable evidence in the formal studies which indicate that a limit on noneconomic damages corresponds to a significant impact on the cost or availability of health care or that noneconomic damages and the costs of liability insurance are directly linked.
In a separate affidavit, Marc Galanter, Evjue-Bascom Professor of Law at the University of Wisconsin Law School, agrees that there is little evidence, apart from anecdotes, to support the perceived deleterious effects of the present civil litigation system. He cites to an article he authored entitled Real World Torts: An Antidote to Anecdote, 55 Md. L. Rev. 1093 (1996). He maintains that the only consequences which clearly flow from the passage of Public Act 89-7 are increased profitability of insurance companies and a reduction in the payments to the most seriously injured tort victims. According to Galanter, court filings in the law division of the circuit court of Cook County have actually declined during the period from 1980 to 1994. Galanter asserts that arguments which rely on systemic costs of the civil litigation system and its negative effect on health care and jobs are purely speculative. Similarly, he states that the salutary effects attributed to the type of tort reform attempted in Public Act 89-7 are largely speculative. Galanter concludes that when comparing isolated instances or anecdotal evidence against the reliable empirical data that does exist, it is apparent that the findings which form the basis for Public Act 89-7 are erroneous.
In addition to the above affidavits, plaintiffs offered the joint affidavit of Stephen Daniels, M.A., Ph.D., a senior research fellow at the American Bar Foundation in Chicago, and Joanne Martin, M.M., J.D., an assistant director of the same foundation. Their affidavit summarizes the key empirical findings of scholarly literature and compares them to the factual underpinnings of Public Act 89-7. Like Vidmar and Galanter, Daniels and Martin state that the facts which form the stated intention or goals of Public Act 89-7 are not substantiated by the empirical data and critical analyses found in published, scholarly literature. Daniels and Martin summarize data which show that only a tiny fraction of accidental deaths and injuries are pursued through the litigation system as claims for compensation. They further maintain, based on studies, that jury awards are not erratic or capricious, but rather relate closely to the severity of the particular injury.
After considering the arguments of the parties and the materials presented, the circuit court invalidated section 2-1115.1 on the grounds that it violated the following provisions of the Illinois Constitution: special legislation (Ill. Const. 1970, art. IV, § 13), equal protection and due process (Ill. Const. 1970, art. I, § 2), separation of powers (Ill. Const. 1970, art. II, § 1), right to a jury (Ill. Const. 1970, art. I, § 13) and right to a certain remedy (Ill. Const. 1970, art. I, § 12). The circuit court held that "no conceivable argument [could] be made in good faith to suggest that arbitrarily limiting [compensatory] damages complies with the [Illinois Constitution]." The court determined that section 2-1115.1 constitutes special legislation because it eliminates fairness and impartiality in the awarding of compensatory damages, thereby bestowing on certain tortfeasors a disproportionate, undeserved benefit of escaping liability for a portion of compensatory damages. The court further found that the affidavits filed in support of plaintiffs' opposition to the findings in the preamble to Public Act 89-7 demonstrate that there is no rational basis for section 2-1115.1.
Our review of the circuit court's ruling is de novo. See Bernier, 113 Ill. 2d at 230. As such, our scope of review is not limited to or bound by any specific material relied upon by the circuit court. We acknowledge that the trial court considered the affidavits of Vidmar, Galanter, Martin and Daniels in its ruling on plaintiffs' motions for partial summary judgment. The materials were admitted in support of plaintiffs' claim that the provisions of the Act are not rationally related to its purposes. While we note that it was permissible for plaintiffs to introduce empirical evidence by way of affidavit, plaintiffs may not prevail on their constitutional challenges merely by showing that the General Assembly was mistaken in its legislative findings of fact. Bernier, 113 Ill. 2d at 229-30, citing United States v. Carolene Products Co., 304 U.S. 144, 153-54, 82 L. Ed. 1234, 1242, 58 S. Ct. 778, 784 (1938). Courts are not empowered to "adjudicate" the accuracy of legislative findings. The legislative fact-finding authority is broad and should be accorded great deference by the judiciary. Therefore, to the extent the affidavits of record may have been offered to contest the wisdom of the legislative enactment, we reiterate that the legislature is not required to convince this court of the correctness of its judgment that the civil justice system needs reform. See Bernier, 113 Ill. 2d at 229, citing Vance v. Bradley, 440 U.S. 93, 111, 59 L. Ed. 2d 171, 184-85, 99 S. Ct. 939, 949-50 (1979); see also Cutinello v. Whitley, 161 Ill. 2d 409, 204 Ill. Dec. 136, 641 N.E.2d 360 (1994). Our task is limited to determining whether the challenged legislation is constitutional, and not whether it is wise. Bernier, 113 Ill. 2d at 230.
In this court, plaintiffs challenge the constitutionality of the damages cap, section 2-1115.1, on the basis that it violates the special legislation clause of the Illinois Constitution (Ill. Const. 1970, art. IV, § 13). Plaintiffs maintain that for individuals whose injuries are minor or moderate, the limit will rarely, if ever, be implicated. Instead, the limit is imposed only when a jury or trial court finds, and the reviewing court agrees, that an award of compensatory noneconomic damages in excess of $500,000 is required to make the plaintiff whole. According to plaintiffs, section 2-1115.1 impermissibly penalizes the most severely injured individuals, whose pain and suffering, disfigurement, and other noneconomic injuries would be most likely to result in a compensatory award in excess of $500,000 but for the statutory limit. Similarly, plaintiffs reason, the damages cap arbitrarily benefits certain tortfeasors, who are relieved of liability for fully compensating plaintiffs. Thus, plaintiffs maintain, section 2-1115.1 constitutes special legislation.
The special legislation clause of the Illinois Constitution provides:
"The General Assembly shall pass no special or local law when a general law is or can be made applicable. Whether a general law is or can be made applicable shall be a matter for judicial determination." (Emphasis added.) Ill. Const. 1970, art. IV, § 13.
It has been noted that the prohibition against special legislation is the "one provision in the legislative articles that specifically limits the lawmaking power of the General Assembly." S. Grove & R. Carlson, The Legislature, in Con-Con: Issues for the Illinois Constitutional Convention 101, 103 (1970). The special legislation clause expressly prohibits the General Assembly from conferring a special benefit or exclusive privilege on a person or a group of persons to the exclusion of others similarly situated. In re Petition of the Village of Vernon Hills, 168 Ill. 2d 117, 122, 212 Ill. Dec. 883, 658 N.E.2d 365 (1995). This court has consistently held that the purpose of the special legislation clause is to prevent arbitrary legislative classifications that discriminate in favor of a select group without a sound, reasonable basis. Wright v. Central Du Page Hospital Ass'n, 63 Ill. 2d 313, 347 N.E.2d 736 (1976) (invalidating $500,000 cap on damages in medical malpractice actions); Grace v. Howlett, 51 Ill. 2d 478, 283 N.E.2d 474 (1972) (striking classifications that conditioned recovery for personal injuries upon fortuity of whether negligent driver was using vehicle for commercial or private purposes); Grasse v. Dealer's Transport Co., 412 Ill. 179, 106 N.E.2d 124 (1952) (invalidating discriminatory classifications of employers, employees, and third-party tortfeasors in workers' compensation provision).
Special legislation analysis is deeply embedded in the constitutional jurisprudence of this state. The ban on special legislation originally arose in the nineteenth century in response to the General Assembly's abuse of the legislative process by granting special charters for various economic entities. D. Ruder, Business Regulation: Corporations, in Con-Con: Issues for the Illinois Constitutional Convention 382, 382-83 (1970). The special legislation clause in the Constitution of 1870 enumerated over 20 specific categories in which the General Assembly was prohibited from passing a local or special law. Ill. Const. 1870, art. IV, § 22. The distinction between special and local laws may be stated as follows:
"A local law is one which applies only to the government of a portion of the territory of the state, and a special law is one which applies only to a portion of the state-its people, its institutions, its economy-in some sense other than geographical." G. Braden & R. Cohn, The Illinois Constitution: An Annotated & Comparative Analysis 206-07 (1969).
Delegates to the 1870 constitutional convention criticized special legislation because, instead of establishing and enforcing general principles applicable to every class of citizens, special legislation enriched particular classes of individuals at the expense of others. I Debates and Proceedings of the Constitutional Convention of the State of Illinois 578 (remarks of Delegate Anderson). Delegate Anderson spoke in favor of the prohibition against special legislation and stated:
"Governments were not made to make the 'rich richer and the poor poorer,' nor to advance the interest of the few against the many; but that the weak might be protected from the will of the strong; that the poor might enjoy the same rights with the rich; that one species of property might be as free as another-that one class or interest should not flourish by the aid of government, whilst another is oppressed with all the burdens." I Debates, at 578 (remarks of Delegate Anderson).
Evidently in recognition of the value of the prohibition against special legislation, the framers of the Illinois Constitution of 1970 decided to retain the clause, with some modifications. See Anderson v. Wagner, 79 Ill. 2d 295, 313-14, 37 Ill. Dec. 558, 402 N.E.2d 560 (1979). First, because the enumerated categories in the constitution of 1870 clearly reflected the nineteenth century concerns which had lost their relevance with the passage of time, the framers of the 1970 constitution omitted the "laundry list" of prohibited categories. See G. Braden & R. Cohn, The Illinois Constitution: An Annotated & Comparative Analysis 225-26 (1969). Additionally, the 1970 constitution rejected the previous rule which had vested in the legislature the power to determine whether a general law could be made applicable. Bridgewater v. Hotz, 51 Ill. 2d 103, 110, 281 N.E.2d 317 (1972). Thus, the present version of the special legislation clause contains an express grant of power to the judiciary: "Whether a general law is or can be made applicable shall be a matter for judicial determination." Ill. Const. 1970, art. IV, § 13.
The framers of the 1970 constitution retained the special legislation prohibition even though an equal protection/due process clause was included in the Illinois Constitution for the first time. See Ill. Const. 1970, art. I, § 2 ("No person shall be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law nor be denied the equal protection of the laws").
A special legislation challenge generally is judged under the same standards applicable to an equal protection challenge. Village of Vernon Hills, 168 Ill. 2d at 123. Public Act 89-7 does not affect a fundamental right or involve a suspect or quasi-suspect classification. See Bernier, 113 Ill. 2d at 227-29. *fn2 Thus, the appropriate standard for our review of Public Act 89-7 is the rational basis test. "Under this standard, a court must determine whether the statutory classification is rationally related to a legitimate State interest." Village of Vernon Hills, 168 Ill. 2d at 123.
Our task in determining whether the damages cap violates the special legislation clause is not without difficulty. See Grasse, 412 Ill. at 194. Indeed, the dilemma in discerning whether or not a particular statute constitutes special legislation has been described as follows:
"It is impossible to conceive of a law that has universal impact and affects everyone or everything in the same way. By enacting laws, the legislature can hardly avoid excluding some category of people or objects. In enforcing this prohibition, the courts must decide if the legislature has made a reasonable classification. Differences of opinion are bound to exist in such situations and the ultimate decision must rest with some judgment as to the soundness of the legislature's action." S. Grove & R. Carlson, The Legislature, in Con-Con: Issues for the Illinois Constitutional Convention 106 (1970).
The difficulty is not overcome by merely reiterating that a classification has been made, i.e., that the legislature has in some way classified groups of people. Rather, we must determine whether the classifications created by section 2-1115.1 are based upon reasonable differences in kind or situation, and whether the basis for the classifications is sufficiently related to the evil to be obviated by the statute. Grasse, 412 Ill. at 195. We note that the legislature has wide discretion in the exercise of its police power. However, in evaluating a challenged provision the court must consider the natural and reasonable effect of the legislation on the rights affected by the provision. Grasse, 412 Ill. at 193.
While it is unnecessary to discuss every Illinois Supreme Court case which has evaluated legislation in the context of the special legislation clause, we note the many cases cited by both plaintiffs and defendants in the case at bar. Defendants cite numerous cases in which this court has rejected challenges to legislation on special legislation and equal protection grounds. See, e.g., Brown's Furniture, Inc. v. Wagner, 171 Ill. 2d 410, 216 Ill. Dec. 537, 665 N.E.2d 795 (1996) (upholding constitutionality of a use tax); Cutinello v. Whitley, 161 Ill. 2d 409, 204 Ill. Dec. 136, 641 N.E.2d 360 (1994) (upholding constitutionality of a county motor fuel tax law); People v. Shephard, 152 Ill. 2d 489, 178 Ill. Dec. 724, 605 N.E.2d 518 (1992) (upholding constitutionality of criminal statute which allowed an enhanced penalty for selling narcotics with an intent to deliver if the situs of the crime is within 1,000 feet of public housing); Chicago National League Ball Club, Inc. v. Thompson, 108 Ill. 2d 357, 91 Ill. Dec. 610, 483 N.E.2d 1245 (1985) (upholding constitutionality of an environmental regulation which monitored nighttime baseball games); Bilyk v. Chicago Transit Authority, 125 Ill. 2d 230, 125 Ill. Dec. 822, 531 N.E.2d 1 (1988) (upholding constitutionality of immunity for a transit authority for failure to protect against criminal acts of third parties).
In contrast to the above cases, this court has invalidated legislative classifications under the special legislation clause where they have an artificially narrow focus and which appear to be designed primarily to confer a benefit on a particular private group without a reasonable basis, rather than to promote the general welfare. See, e.g., In re Belmont Fire Protection District, 111 Ill. 2d 373, 381-86, 95 Ill. Dec. 521, 489 N.E.2d 1385 (1986) (invalidating a statute which authorized only counties with populations of between 600,000 and 1 million residents to consolidate all fire protection services into one district); Wright v. Central Du Page Hospital Ass'n, 63 Ill. 2d 313, 325-30, 347 N.E.2d 736 (1976) (invalidating $500,000 limit on compensatory damages in medical malpractice actions); Grace v. Howlett, 51 Ill. 2d 478, 486-87, 283 N.E.2d 474 (1972) (invalidating a limit on recovery applicable to damages inflicted by commercial motorists, but not private motorists); Skinner v. Anderson, 38 Ill. 2d 455, 459-60, 231 N.E.2d 588 (1967) (invalidating a statute of repose for construction-related injuries for architects and contractors, but not other potential defendants in the construction process); see also Lorton v. Brown County Community Unit School District No. I, 35 Ill. 2d 362, 364-66, 220 N.E.2d 161 (1966); Hutchings v. Kraject, 34 Ill. 2d 379, 380-82, 215 N.E.2d 274 (1966); Harvey v. Clyde Park District, 32 Ill. 2d 60, 64-67, 203 N.E.2d 573 (1964). As the above-cited cases reveal, the hallmark of an unconstitutional classification is its arbitrary application to similarly situated individuals without adequate justification or connection to the purpose of the statute.
In the case at bar, plaintiffs specifically rely on the following three decisions of this court which held invalid as special legislation certain statutes which created arbitrary classifications between groups of similarly situated injured plaintiffs or tortfeasors: Wright v. Central Du Page Hospital Ass'n, 63 Ill. 2d 313, 347 N.E.2d 736 (1976); Grace v. Howlett, 51 Ill. 2d 478, 283 N.E.2d 474 (1972); Grasse v. Dealer's Transport Co., 412 Ill. 179, 106 N.E.2d 124 (1952). Because plaintiffs maintain that these precedents of this court are controlling with respect to the constitutionality of section 2-1115.1, we discuss them in detail.
In Wright, this court held that a $500,000 limit on compensatory damages in medical malpractice actions (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1975, ch. 70, par. 101) violated the equal protection and special legislation provisions of the Illinois Constitution. Like plaintiffs in the case at bar, the plaintiff in Wright argued that the compensatory damages limit arbitrarily classified and unreasonably discriminated against the most seriously injured victims of medical malpractice. Like defendants in the case at bar, the defendants in Wright argued that a compensatory damage limit was necessary to manage a liability crisis, specifically a "medical malpractice crisis." The plaintiff maintained, however, that the burden of the legislative effort to reduce or maintain malpractice insurance premiums arbitrarily fell exclusively on those most deserving of compensation: the severely injured.
The Wright court noted that unlike statutorily created causes of action (see Hall v. Gillins, 13 Ill. 2d 26, 147 N.E.2d 352 (1958); Cunningham v. Brown, 22 Ill. 2d 23, 174 N.E.2d 153 (1961)), the right to recover for injuries arising from medical malpractice existed at common law. *fn3 See Ritchey v. West, 23 Ill. 329 (1860). Thus, the limitations on that right of action were subject to constitutional scrutiny. Specifically, in Wright, this court concluded that the General Assembly did not have the power to prescribe arbitrary limitations on an injured plaintiff's compensatory damages. The limitation on compensatory damages in medical malpractice actions was determined to be arbitrary and a special law in violation of the special legislation clause of the Illinois Constitution of 1970. The damages limit conferred a special privilege on medical malpractice tortfeasors by insulating them from fully compensating plaintiffs for fairly assessed damages. Consequently, relief to an injured plaintiff depended solely on an arbitrary classification, in violation of the prohibition against special legislation. Wright, 63 Ill. 2d at 329-30.
Similarly, in Grace, this court held that a statute which limited recovery for certain automobile accident victims constituted an arbitrary and unreasonable legislative classification in violation of the prohibition against special legislation. At issue in Grace was a newly enacted article to the Illinois Insurance Code (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1971, ch. 73, pars. 1065.150 through 1065.163). The plaintiffs brought an action for injunctive relief against state officers to enjoin them from expending funds appropriated for the enforcement of the new article. The combined effect of certain provisions of the new law was to limit an injured plaintiff's ability to recover compensatory damages, including damages for pain and suffering, depending on whether the party at fault was using the automobile for commercial or personal purposes.
The defendants in Grace described the amendment to the Insurance Code as a response to the growing public demand for a change in the way society copes with the enormous legal, social and economic problems produced by car accidents. The defendants identified small personal injury actions as one of the major evils of the system of compensating car accident victims. Grace, 51 Ill. 2d at 484. The defendants further maintained that the studies regarding car accident compensation identified many problems with the system of compensating injured individuals. Specifically, the defendants maintained that the studies showed the inequitable distribution of compensation among victims, the excessive expense of the claim system, and the excessive burden on limited judicial resources. According to the defendants, the changes to the Insurance Code were rationally connected to legitimate government concerns.
In determining whether the provisions at issue violated special legislation and equal protection, the Grace court assumed that the problems described by the defendants in fact existed. However, the court reasoned, the fact that a problem exists does not permit the adoption of an arbitrary or unrelated means of addressing the problem. Grace, 51 Ill. 2d at 485. In rejecting the defendants' argument that the legislation was a permissible exercise of legislative power, the Grace court stated,
"Unless this court is to abdicate its constitutional responsibility to determine whether a general law can be made applicable, the available scope for legislative experimentation with special legislation is limited, and this court cannot rule that the legislature is free to enact special legislation simply because 'reform may take one step at a time.' [Citation.]" Grace, 51 Ill. 2d at 487.
This court concluded that to the extent that recovery is permitted or denied on an arbitrary basis, a special privilege was granted in violation of the prohibition against special legislation. Grace, 51 Ill. 2d at 487-90.
In Grasse, this court invalidated a provision of the Worker's Compensation Act that created arbitrary classifications. At issue in Grasse was a provision which automatically transferred to an employer, in certain cases, an employee's common law right of action against a third-party tortfeasor. In Grasse, the plaintiff and his employer filed claims against a private defendant to recover damages stemming from an automobile collision which was allegedly caused by the negligence of the defendant's employee. Because both the plaintiff and defendant's employee were acting in the course of their employment at the time of the accident, paragraph 1 of section 29 of the Worker's Compensation Act applied to the subsequent litigation. This provision authorized the automatic transfer of the plaintiff-employee's claim against the third-party tortfeasor to the plaintiff's employer. The circuit court consequently dismissed the plaintiff's claim against the third-party tortfeasor.
On appeal to this court, the plaintiff alleged, in part, that the statute violated the special legislation clause of the Illinois Constitution (Ill. Const. 1870, art. IV, § 22) because it created arbitrary and unreasonable classifications. This court agreed, holding that the statute created unreasonable classifications in which the plaintiff's ability to recover complete compensation was determined by fortuitous circumstances. The statute divided injured employees into two arbitrary classes based solely on the fortuity of whether or not the third-party tortfeasor was also bound by the provision. One class was deprived of the right to collect compensatory damages from the tortfeasor and the other class, which was similarly situated, was conferred such right. This court concluded that there was no substantial or rational difference between the injured employees in the two classes and, therefore, the statute offended the prohibition against special legislation.
In addition to the unequal treatment of injured employees, the Grasse court determined that the statute divided third-party tortfeasors into two classes: those bound by the worker's compensation provision, who were freed from paying compensatory damages to employees of other entities under the act, and all other tortfeasors, who remained liable for the full amount of fairly assessed compensatory damages. The first class of tortfeasors were only required to pay amounts sought by the employer as reimbursement for worker's compensation payments. In contrast, the second class of tortfeasors remained liable to the plaintiff for the full amount of compensatory damages assessed by a trier of fact. Therefore, the distinctions were arbitrary and constituted a violation of the special legislation clause. Grasse, 412 Ill. at 199.
Defendants maintain that plaintiffs' reliance on Wright, Grace, and Grasse is misplaced. According to defendants, these cases were limited by Anderson v. Wagner, 79 Ill. 2d 295, 37 Ill. Dec. 558, 402 N.E.2d 560 (1979), in a way that renders their holdings inapplicable to the legislation in the case at bar.
At issue in Anderson was section 21.1 of the Limitations Act (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1977, ch. 83, par. 22.1), which provided a special statute of limitations period for medical malpractice actions against physicians and hospitals. The plaintiffs in Anderson contended that section 21.1 violated the due process and equal protection provisions of the state and federal constitutions, and the special legislation provision of the Illinois Constitution. The plaintiff maintained that section 21.1 violated the special legislation clause because it (1) set medical malpractice apart from all other professional malpractice and (2) conferred a special privilege upon only two classes of medical health providers, physicians and hospitals. Following an extensive analysis of the development of the discovery rule in medical malpractice cases, and the impact on physicians and hospitals, this court rejected the plaintiff's constitutional challenge to the statute of limitations provision at issue.
In analyzing the plaintiff's challenges, the Anderson court retraced the evolution of the "discovery rule" in medical malpractice cases. Under the discovery rule, a cause of action accrued when a person learned of his injury or reasonably should have learned of it. Because the discovery rule came to be applied extensively in medical malpractice cases, statutes of limitation in existence no longer provided repose for malpractice defendants. The discovery rule was perceived to be partly responsible for the medical malpractice crisis because it created a "long tail" of liability for medical malpractice defendants. Thus, the statute of limitations provision at issue in Anderson was enacted to place an outside limit on the applicability of the discovery rule to physicians and hospitals. Anderson, 79 Ill. 2d at 316-21. We find that Anderson is distinguishable from the instant case because in Anderson, the General Assembly was responding to judicial expansion of the discovery rule, which had undermined the medical malpractice statute of limitation by creating a tolling provision of potentially unlimited duration.
Defendants in the instant case also rely upon language in Anderson which responded to critics of Wright. In dicta, the Anderson court explained that Wright did not hold that all statutory provisions creating medical malpractice review panels were unconstitutional. The Anderson court also noted that Wright 's holding regarding the limit on economic damages was consistent with American Bar Association standards which recommend against any limitation on economic loss. Anderson, 79 Ill. 2d at 304. However, this court in Anderson did not consider the General Assembly's authority to place a limit on compensatory damages for noneconomic injuries. We reject defendants' argument that our decision in Anderson limits Wright 's application in the case at bar.
Plaintiffs argue that section 2-1115.1 merely stitches together legislative classifications previously rejected in Wright, Grasse and Grace, and then adds product liability cases. According to plaintiffs, section 2-1115.1 contains three arbitrary classifications that have no reasonable connection to the stated legislative goals: (1) the limitation on noneconomic damages distinguishes between slightly and severely injured individuals, (2) the limitation on noneconomic damages arbitrarily distinguishes between individuals with identical injuries, and (3) the limitation arbitrarily distinguishes types of injury. At oral argument, plaintiffs offered examples illustrating how the limitation on noneconomic damages is disconnected from the stated legislative purposes of providing rationality and consistency to jury verdicts.
In the first example, it is assumed that three plaintiffs are injured as a result of the same tortfeasor's negligence. Plaintiff A is injured moderately, and suffers pain, disability and disfigurement for a month. Plaintiff B is severely injured and suffers one year of pain and disability. Plaintiff C is drastically injured, and suffers permanent pain and disability. For purposes of this example, it is further assumed that a jury awards plaintiffs A and B $100,000 in compensatory damages for noneconomic injuries. Plaintiff C receives $1 million for his permanent, life-long pain and disability.
In the above hypothetical, section 2-1115.1 fails to provide consistency or rationality to a jury's seemingly inconsistent decision to award plaintiffs A and B the same amount for very different noneconomic injuries. Therefore, the legislative goal of providing consistency is not met by the damages cap. With respect to plaintiff C, section 2-1115.1 arbitrarily and automatically reduces the jury's award for a lifetime of pain and disability, without regard to whether or not the verdict, before reduction, was reasonable and fair.
The tortfeasors in this example are also treated differently, without any justification. The tortfeasor who injures plaintiffs A and B is liable for the full amount of fairly assessed compensatory damages. In contrast, section 2-1115.1 confers a benefit on the similarly situated tortfeasor who injures plaintiff C. This tortfeasor pays only a portion of fairly assessed compensatory damages because of the limitation in section 2-1115.1. Therefore, the statute discriminates between slightly and severely injured plaintiffs, and also between tortfeasors who cause severe and moderate or minor injuries.
Plaintiffs suggest that section 2-1115.1 creates a second arbitrary legislative classification by distinguishing between injured individuals who suffer identical injuries. For example, we are asked to assume that an individual loses his leg due to a defectively manufactured forklift today, and he loses his other leg in a car accident the following year. Both injuries are caused by the negligent conduct of others. The injured individual brings two different actions against two different defendants, and a jury assesses compensatory damages for noneconomic injuries at $400,000 in each case. Section 2-1115.1 would allow the plaintiff to recover both verdicts in full. However, if the same plaintiff lost both legs in a single accident due to the negligence of another, and if the jury fairly assessed $800,000 in compensatory damages for noneconomic injuries, then the cap in section 2-1115.1 would eliminate a substantial portion of that tortfeasor's liability, without regard to the facts of the case.
To illustrate the third arbitrary classification created by the limitation on noneconomic damages in personal injury actions, plaintiffs argue that section 2-1115.1 improperly discriminates among types of injuries. Plaintiffs maintain that the legislative statements concerning the supposed difficulties of assessing damages for noneconomic injuries apply equally to all tort claims for pure noneconomic loss, and not just those involving death, bodily injury or property damage. Other torts that remain unaffected by the legislation at issue are invasion of privacy, defamation, intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligent infliction of emotional distress, damage to reputation and breach of fiduciary duty. The speculative nature of noneconomic damages for these torts, which do not involve personal injury, is not addressed by the cap in section 2-1115.1.
Plaintiffs maintain that the above illustrations demonstrate the arbitrariness of the classifications created by section 2-1115.1, in violation of the prohibition against special legislation. Plaintiffs contend that the classifications contained within section 2-1115.1 allow certain culpable tortfeasors to escape liability for a portion of fairly assessed compensatory damages, while requiring others to pay the full amount of assessed damages. Similarly, certain injured plaintiffs are denied compensatory damages, while other similarly situated injured plaintiffs are awarded full compensation, without any rational justification for the distinction.
Defendants raise a series of related arguments in opposition to plaintiffs' contention that section 2-1115.1 is arbitrary and not rationally related to a legitimate government interest. Defendants contend that plaintiffs' arguments are "fatally flawed" in that they are based on the erroneous assumption that noneconomic injuries, which are difficult to assess, should be monetarily compensable. Defendants further argue that section 2-1115.1 is rationally related to the legislative goal of reducing systemic costs of the civil justice system, which may be accomplished "one step at a time"; that the General Assembly has the power to change the ...