Home to roost

The Madison County Record Mar. 11, 2007, 8:00am

So a woman holds the door for a man walking into your pizzeria and, somehow, bruises her shoulder in the process.

She sues the man and your pizzeria for damages. You bring out an expert and confirm-- the door is indeed functioning properly as it has for years.

Should you worry?

If the powers-that-be running our state have their way, we all should.

Buried beneath the more headline-worthy bad ideas flying out of our State Capitol these days is a measure that would--- get this-- juice profits of our booming ambulance-chasing industry by sticking it harder to those of us unfortunate enough to be peripherally involved in an accident.

Hey-- you cannot say the Democrats in Springfield are out to get every Illinois business.

The issue surrounds how our courts handles joint-and-several liability, or allotting blame among multiple parties in a personal injury case.

Current Illinois law protects those of us who are only minimally to blame for another's injury. If you're less than 25% responsible, you only have to pay your percentage of the judgment.

Senate Bill 1296, which has passed that chamber's Judiciary Committee with the support of our very own Sen. Bill Haine (D-Alton), would dramatically change this equation.

In the case of your pizzeria, you're probably 1% responsible-- you might have posted a fluorescent sign warning of the danger of opening a door-- while the man who jerked the door is 99% to blame. But he quickly settles out of court. You're the only defendant left.

Today, you'd still only be liable for 1% of any court judgment. Tomorrow, if this bill becomes law, you'd have to pay 100%, even though the bruise was barely-- if at all-- your fault.

"Deep pockets" tort law, or concept of targeting defendants based on their ability to pay, rather than their actual fault in causing an injury, is a civil justice anachronism. There's a reason why state-after-state is outlawing the practice, not encouraging it.

This bill is bad for business, bad for our economy, bad for insurance rates, pizza prices and justice itself-- but great for trial lawyers. That's the price we all pay, apparently, for past medical malpractice reform glory.

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