Tort reform realpolitik

The Madison County Record May 7, 2005, 4:37pm


In a move akin to Tony LaRussa suggesting allegiance to the Cubs, last week powerful Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago) indicated that he would—for the first time ever-- consider a measure pushing caps on “pain and suffering” damages in civil lawsuits.

Remarkable, this is, as the Speaker has for decades taken the opposite stance.

A lawyer himself whose most generous backers are cap-loathing plaintiff’s attorneys, Madigan has been a fierce bulwark against caps in Springfield.

Word of his apparent 180 has doctors and hospitals giddy. They have vigorously lobbied for years to change Madigan’s mind. Have their efforts worked? Is he now on their side?

Meanwhile, their attorney archenemies—- who spent millions upon millions to elect Madigan and his allies-- are publicly seething. This is their Democrat party and their statewide mandate. Now-- what they least want is what they get.

Taken at face value, this would be the climactic moment in the movie when Speaker Madigan explains his about-face to the Illinois masses at an impromptu press conference.

“It’s time to do what’s right,” he would say, glaring at a pack of stunned Armani-suited trial lawyers. “Illinois needs its doctors.”

Just then, a white-coated doctor complete with stethoscope would throw an arm around the Speaker. He’d turn and smile. The crowd would roar, music would start and credits would roll.

We all leave the theatre in a sappy haze.

Of course, in the real world of lawmaking life doesn’t imitate feel-good political films. Michael Madigan isn’t Michael Douglas.

Time-worn cynics like us figure Madigan’s surprise move is part of some contrived strategy to relieve public pressure on his legislators by feigning concern for doctors.

His trial lawyers donors are mad now—- but they won’t be when caps aren’t law and the tort reform hysteria has passed.

Perhaps the House passes caps and they fail in the State Senate. Or Governor Rod Blagojevich, coveting trial lawyer support for his expensive 2006 re-election battle, refuses to sign them into law. Or the Democrat-dominated State Supreme Court, as it has done before, declares caps ‘unconstitutional.’

However it goes, doctors won’t be able to blame their new buddy—- the House Speaker—- and his majority will remain safe and sound.

Forgive us if we hold the applause for now. This plot is only thickening.

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