Civil justice reforms reintroduced by Dillard in Senate

Ann Knef Feb. 12, 2007, 9:18am

Ed Murnane

Illinois State Sen. Kirk Dillard (R-Hinsdale) last week reintroduced several civil justice reform proposals that may end up getting the short shrift in a less than friendly general assembly.

Dillard, the "staunchest supporter of civil justice reform legislation in the Illinois General Assembly," according to Ed Murnane, president of the Illinois Civil Justice League (ICJL), filed nine bills ranging from jury service reform to product liability reform.

Murnane wrote in a commentary Monday that Dillard's position as co-chair of the Judiciary gives him "an edge" on bills he is sponsoring which are assigned to that committee. But, Murnane pointed out, it doesn't guarantee his legislative proposals will be debated or assigned to a committee.

"It is likely that the heavy influence of the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association and the Illinois State Bar Association will doom many of these proposals to a quick death in the Rules Committee," Murnane wrote.

Last week State Sen. Frank Watson, minority leader, said the "political makeup" of a Democratically-controlled Senate, House and Executive branch will make it very difficult to advance civil justice reforms.

Watson (R-Greenville) said that the biggest part of the problem--medical malpractice--has been addressed.

"But tort reform and the impact it has on bringing jobs to Illinois and expanding our economic base, more needs to be done, a great deal," Watson said.

Medical malpractice liability reform, which capped non-economic damages for hospitals at $1 million and doctors at $500,000, was enacted in Illinois in 2005. The bill would not have passed in the state legislature, however, if not for a group of reluctant Metro-East Democrats wary of their looming re-election.

Tort reform proposals in the new general assembly face a daunting challenge. Republicans ceded even more leverage in last November's election by losing seats in the House and Senate.

A synopsis of Dillard's bills that have been directed to the Senate Rules Committee, as defined by the ICJL, follows:

Jury Reform: SB 1548 is similar to legislation introduced last year and in previous years. It would increase compensation for jurors and make jury service more tolerable by providing opportunities to reschedule service. It also includes protection for small businesses.

Expert Testimony: SB 1548 is similar to legislation introduced last year. It establishes requirements for qualifications of "expert" witnesses and limits the testimony of non-experts. It sets the same standards for admissibility of expert testimony as is in practice in federal courts. Guidelines assure that expert testimony is reliable and trustworthy before it is presented in court.

Asbestos Evidence: SB 1561 provides that in cases involving asbestos, defense counsel may present evidence of other sources of asbestos to which the plaintiff was exposed. Currently, the "Lipke Rule" prevents defendants from introducing evidence that may implicate other defendants.

It would allow introducing questions such as: (1) whether the plaintiff had exposure to any asbestos manufactured by, processed by, or otherwise associated with any entity other than the defendant; (2) whether the plaintiff's exposure to asbestos was to asbestos exclusively manufactured by, processed by, or otherwise associated with the defendant; and (3) whether there is a causal relationship between the plaintiff's alleged injuries and the asbestos manufactured by, processed by, or otherwise associated with the defendant.

Joint and Several Liability: SB 1562 is similar to legislation introduced last year. It establishes proportionate liability so that each defendant is required to pay damages based on its degree of fault, rather than requiring any single defendant to pay all or most of damages.

Class Action Reform: SB 1570 is similar to legislation introduced last year. It establishes a requirement that a court must determine that a proposed class action is superior to other available methods for the fair and efficient adjudication of the controversy in question.

Venue Reform: SB 1571 does not restrict lawsuits but does set guidelines as where civil actions can be initiated. It is intended to prevent "venue shopping."

Consumer Fraud Act Amendment: SB 1572 clarifies that Illinois' Consumer Fraud Act does not apply to damages for conduct resulting in bodily injury, death, or damage to property other than the property that is the subject of the practice claimed to be unlawful. The Consumer Fraud Act was intended to protect consumers from suffering economic injury as a result of deceptive and unlawful trade practices. The Act was not intended to create another tort cause of action that could be used to recover for personal injuries. This bill would clarify this original intention and ensure that plaintiffs do not use the Consumer Fraud Act to recover for personal injuries.

Product Liability Reform: SB 1573 includes the identical language found in the Civil Justice Reform Amendments of 1995, the comprehensive tort reform bill passed by the General Assembly but overturned by the Illinois Supreme Court. This portion of the 1995 legislation was not addressed by the Supreme Court, which invited the General Assembly to resubmit those provisions not overturned.

Full and Fair Non-economic Damages Act: SB 1574 is similar to legislation introduced last year. It would apply limits ("caps") on non-economic damage awards in all types of civil litigation, not just medical malpractice suits as enacted in 2005.

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Organizations in this Story

Illinois General Assembly
301 S 2nd Street
Springfield, IL 62707

Illinois Trial Lawyers Association
401 W Edwards St
Springfield, IL 62704

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