Tort reform bills die in House committee with Hoffman's help

Ann Knef Mar. 22, 2007, 8:17am

Rep. Hoffman

Attorney Jeff Hebrank (left) and Rep. Ron Stephens

Judy Cates

Rep. Bill Brady (left) and attorney William "Barney" Schultz

Despite the testimony of two Metro-East defense attorneys, a package of tort reform bills died in the arms of a trial lawyer-friendly House Judiciary Committee in Springfield on Wednesday.

Judy Cates of Swansea, president of the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association (ITLA), was one of several witnesses who spoke out against passage of venue, class action, asbestos and expert witness reform bills.

On the other hand, Edwardsville attorney Jeff Hebrank urged the committee to pass House Bill 1897, which would have required more exacting standards for asbestos plaintiffs. The committee rejected the bill along party lines 8-6.

State Rep. Jay Hoffman, an "of counsel" attorney with the Lakin Law Firm of Wood River, was among the Democratic legislators to vote against it. He is the only Metro-East lawmaker to serve on the committee.

Illinois Civil Justice League President Ed Murnane expressed disappointment in the committee's actions.

"The conduct of the trial lawyers and their obedient, carefully controlled followers was not surprising, nor was the, at times, rude and offensive testimony by present and former leaders of ITLA," he said.

Last week Hebrank testified before the same committee against a bill that expands recovery for victims under the Illinois Wrongful Death Act. House Bill 1798 allows beneficiaries of a person killed in an accident to claim damages for grief, sorrow, and mental suffering.

Hebrank, who is president-elect of the Illinois Association of Defense Trial Counsel (IDC), argued that the proposal was "unconscionable" because it allows plaintiff's lawyers to "get a windfall of money that they never were entitled to under the law," he said.

The ITLA-backed bill passed anyway. Hoffman voted for it.

Attorney William "Barney" Shultz of Edwardsville, who frequently represents defendants in Madison County class action lawsuits, argued for passage of House Bill 1893 on Wednesday.

The proposal would have required that the majority of class action members reside in Illinois, that they they were in Illinois when the cause of action arose and that a class action suit is the superior method of adjudicating a dispute.

The bill was never called. Nor was House Bill 1892, a venue reform measure calling for lawsuits to be filed in the county in which the cause of action occurred.

A bill that would establish qualifications of expert witnesses and limit the testimony of non-experts in tort cases, House Bill 1896, was squashed in a 6-6-1 vote.

"It is unfortunate that the bills that were before the committee were rejected without any regard to the economic benefit to all the citizens of Illinois, and the establishment of a fairer civil justice system for plaintiffs, defendants and all Illinois residents," Murnane said.

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

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