Venue reform revving up in Springfield

Ann Knef Feb. 2, 2006, 4:00am

Republican legislators were joined by the Illinois Civil Justice League and Illinois Chamber of Commerce at the state capitol on Wednesday calling for more legal reforms in the land of reluctant Democrats.

Leading the fight on venue reform, ICJL President Ed Murnane urged lawmakers to take action on the state's lawsuit crisis.

The state's reputation as having an unfriendly business climate prevents investment in Illinois, he said. Rather than attracting jobs, Illinois is attracting attorneys and plaintiffs from other states.

"Illinois' current jobs crisis can be traced to a number of factors, but employers around the country agree that perhaps the most important impediment to bringing new jobs and investment to our state is the reputation for lawsuit abuse that has turned the Land of Lincoln into the Land of Lawsuits," Murane said.

Illinois Chamber of Commerce President Doug Whitley said the state's reputation for "shakedown justice" is stagnating job growth and economic development.

Legal reform advocates say that Madison, St. Clair and Cook counties, which attract more lawsuits per capita than others in the state, are chiefly responsible for the state's negative reputation.

In the coming weeks the debate over where lawsuits should be filed will pick up where it left off last year in Springfield.

But the Democratic-controlled legislature, which reluctantly passed a watered-down medical liability reform package at the tail end of the last session, is not likely to embrace additional legal reforms this session.

State Sen. Frank Watson (R-Greenville) praised the bi-partisan effort in getting a "caps" bill passed last year, but said more work needs to be done.

"Last year we passed meaningful medical liability reform legislation to keep our doctors in Illinois, working in our hospitals and communities. Now, we need to finish the job to ensure our jobs and factories stay in Illinois," said Watson, Republican Senate Leader.

State Sen. Kirk Dillard (R-Hinsdale) and House Republican Leader State Rep. Tom Cross (R-Plainfield) have introduced identical venue reform bills that define where lawsuits can be filed.

"Illinois has lost over 200,000 manufacturing jobs in the last five years. We need to take immediate action to reverse this trend and make Illinois a place where businesses want to locate, expand and grow," said Cross.

According to the measures, SB 2896 and HB 4979, proper venue is where all defendants reside, instead of the county of residence of any defendant joined in the lawsuit.

Those bills also define appropriate venue as the county of residence of all plaintiffs at the time of the most significant act occurred and the county in which the most significant portion of the action took place. The measures also state that when there are multiple plaintiffs who reside in various locales, venue is proper in the county where the most significant portion of the action took place.

Lawmakers are expected to address other legal reform measures as well. The civil justice reform package also includes:

  • Class action reform -- HB 4980-Pihos/ SB 2895-Dillard -- Restricts class action suits to the court sitting in the county where either the defendant's principal place of business is located, a plurality of plaintiffs reside, or where the cause of action occurred.

  • Joint and several liability -- HB 4981-Stephens/ SB 2893-Dillard -- Eliminates joint and several liability so that each defendant, in cases where there are more than one, is held financially responsible for the percentage of the total award the judge or jury deems appropriate.

  • Limitations on punitive damages -- HB 4982-Winters/ SB 2890-Dillard -- A defendant in a jury trial may request a two-part trial in any case where there is potential for non-economic (punitive) damages.

  • Expert evidence -- HB 4983-Kosel/ SB 2892-Dillard Establishes new criteria for a witness to be considered an 'expert' witness.

  • Lipke Rule (asbestos defense) -- HB 4984-Reis/ SB 2894-Dillard In cases involving asbestos, defense counsel may present evidence of other sources of asbestos to which the plaintiff was exposed.

    "This set of bills represents a most effective and most responsible way to promote job creation and economic growth in Illinois," said Dillard.

    "Bi-Partisan action on this legislative package will help spark economic revitalization across Illinois."

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    Organizations in this Story

    Illinois Chamber of Commerce
    215 E Adams St
    Springfield, IL 62701

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