The legal process can be exhausting. That is particularly true when it comes to medical malpractice cases, because it takes considerable time to collect the evidence, discuss with expert witness, and ultimately reach a resolution. Of course, the length is longest if the matter needs to go all the way to trial. However, even procuring a reasonable settlement can take a long time.
Long story short: families are often forced to wait quite a bit of time before receiving compensation for their losses.
Because of this, injury attorneys work as hard as possible to ensure that settlement payments actually land in a bank account from the insurance company as soon as feasible. Some companies are fair and actually send settlement money in a timely manner. But not all insurance companies care about fairness. Instead, there are some entities that do everything they can to delay actual payment to a med mal victim and their family even longer.
That needs to change. Fortunately, as a result of a law recently signed by Illinois Governor Pat Quinn–Public Act 98-548–change is on the way.
The full text of the bill which became law (SB 1812) can be viewed online here. The text itself may be a bit unwieldy for the uninitiated. The basic premise is that there will be penalties which seek to prevent insurance companies and other defendants from dragging their feet and not paying settlement funds in a timely fashion.
More technically, the bill amends Civil Procedure rules so that plaintiffs have tools to better enforce the obligations of the defendants following a lawsuit settlement. The law applies to all personal injury and wrongful death matters–including those related to medical malpractice.
Under the new rules a defendant has 21 days to pay the agreed upon amount. The clock begins running as soon as all settlement documents are properly tendered. If the defendant stalls in payment, then a court hearing will be had. If the court finds that the payment has not been made at that time, then an actual judgement will be entered against the defendant to pay not only the settlement amount but legal costs fees, and interest (9%) accrued as a result of the delay.
It is important to point out that a judgement by a court is technically different than a settlement agreement. By expediting the process by which a plaintiff can receive an actual judgment following failure to abide by settlement agreements, the law will hopefully crack down on stall tactics by insurance companies. In addition, the 9% interest rate addition will act as a strong incentive for companies to move at a reasonable speed to honor the agreements they make with plaintiffs.
Families dealing with the consequences of medical malpractice have already been waiting months and likely years to finally settle the matter. There is zero reason that the responsible defendants should do anything unnecessarily which stalls the process. We salute the lawmakers who passed this common sense legislation and the Governor for his signature.