State lawmakers in Springfield are set to return to the capitol this month to officially begin the 2014 General Assembly session. Legislators have already filed a flurry of bills that they hope will be considered and ultimately passed into law at some point before June–when the regular session ends for the year.
Statehouse observers are quick to point out that only a small minority of bills filed will ever make it through the gauntlet and become law. In fact, the process of filing a bill is often a symbolic act, with legislators introducing measures that they know have zero chance of passing simply to indicate their position and garner favor from certain advocates in their districts.
Protecting the Legal Rights of Malpractice Victims
No doubt that a few bills will be filed by lawmakers which would affect the Illinois civil justice system and the rights of those harmed by medical malpractice in the state. For decades various interests groups have attempted to take away, piece by piece, the rights of those harmed by medical errors. Large insurance companies, medical conglomerates, and other entities apply significant pressure to legislators in an attempt to get laws passed which would skew the justice system for defendants. Those laws take the form of damages caps, stricter time limits, more burdensome evidentiary requirements, and more.
In claiming a need for these laws, advocates for tort reform frequently cite a rash of “frivolous lawsuits” supposedly clogging up the courts and leading to “jackpot” winnings for undeserving plaintiffs. These claims are not just extremely misleading but usually flat-out wrong.
The Illinois Trial Lawyer’s Association (ITLA) created several handy fact sheets that share direct information about how the actual civil justice system works, dispelling myths like the idea of endless frivolous lawsuits. Under civil procedure rules, there are a range of safeguards built in to weed out any claim that is without merit. In fact, because of the system’s commitment to protecting the rights of all involved, sometimes even reasonable claims are thrown out because they fail to jump through every procedural hoop.
As soon as a case is filed in civil court, the judge can toss out the matter if it is not grounded in merit. In addition, there are penalties that attorneys may face if they bring a frivolous lawsuits to court, including paying fines, court fees, and even the defense lawyer’s own costs.
On top of that, the very idea of pushing frivolous lawsuits is entirely impractical for trial lawyers. Virtually all injury cases, including Chicago medical malpractice matters, are taken by plaintiff’s attorneys on a contingency fee basis. That means that the attorney only receives anything for his or her work if the client receives a settlement or verdict. Attorneys in medical malpractice cases are often forced to put up hundreds of thousands of dollars ahead of time to pursue the case–pay for experts, fund depositions, pay fees, and more. If the case is lost, the lawyer loses all of those funds. Put simply, it is economically unfeasible for lawyers to spend money on cases that do not have merit.
The next time you hear someone spouting about the problem of frivolous lawsuits, be sure to set the record straight.
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