ITLA President Responds to Letter Regarding Proposed Illinois Legislation

The battle over legal fairness in Illinois rages on. Many believe that ‘tort reform” is synonymous with damage caps. However, big companies, chronic defendants, and high-profile interests groups can chip away at the legal rights of community members in many other ways. For example, as we often discuss, mandatory arbitration agreements or other forced alternative dispute-resolution processes usually allow defendants to move matters into a forum where they have the upper hand. Rulings about timing requirement, sufficient evidence standards, and other issues similarly use various procedural grounds to limit the amount that companies have to pay when their errors cause harm to others.

Considering the damage that comes with these rule changes, many advocates work within the legislative process to fix the loopholes and create legal safeguards for community members. For example, take a bill that was debated in the Illinois General Assembly recently, Senate Bill 1912. The bill changes various rules regarding civil procedure in Illinois courts. Most notably, the law would require that defendants settling a case for damages must tender a release to the plaintiff within 14 days of reaching the agreement. It also requires that the defendants must pay the settlement within 21 days of the release. Failure to follow these rules would result in required interest payments.

This seems like a straightforward piece of legislation. If parties settle a matter, the defendant who is paying for damages is required to act in a timely fashion to meet the settlement demands. Stall tactics and delays need to be cut out to ensure more timely accountability and redress for those trying to recover after a loss.

Expectedly, those openly hostile to the legal rights of community members were quick to make wild claims about the dangers of this law. Most of those claims refer to clogging up the court system and preventing settlements. Recently the president of the Illinois Trial Lawyer’s Association, Gregory L. Shevlin, wrote a letter to the editor in response to one of those attacks. He noted the reality: the families who need this legislation most are those who must deal with the consequences of an error immediately.

For example, families of those who are severely injured due to medical malpractice do not have the benefit of waiting weeks, months, or even years before dealing with the reality of the error–hiring nurses, getting special equipment, paying for therapy, etc. They need to act immediately, and it is only logical that those responsible for the harm act in a timely fashion to provide redress owed so the family can deal with the consequences.

When the Illinois General Assembly session ended last Friday, the House took up the vote on the bill that the Senate had already passed. On Tuesday, May 28th the House also voted to pass the bill (67 to 50). In the next two days–the final days of the session– a concurrence was passed by the Senate in committee and on the Senate floor. As a result, the bill officially passed both Houses and will be sent to the Governor for his signature. If he signs, then the measure will become law, helping many families throughout the state.

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