Good Grief

The Madison County Record May 26, 2007, 10:00am

It's never about the money. Except when it is, sayeth Springfield's most committed plaintiff's bar allies, who have pushed another incentive for us to sue one another to Governor Rod Blagojevich's desk.

House Bill 1798, supported by Metro-East Sens. Bill Haine (D-Alton) and James Clayborne (D-East St. Louis) and Reps. Jay Hoffman (D-Collinsville) and Wyvetter Younge (D-East St. Louis), allows plaintiffs to collect damages for "grief, sorrow, and mental suffering" in wrongful death lawsuits.

That's in addition to physical "pain and suffering," plus "loss of consortium" and "loss to society," for which surviving family members and their lawyers can already get paid.

The net would be higher jury awards and legal fees, as juries begin compensating plaintiffs for their hurt feelings. Doctors are also concerned, as they see the measure as an end run around 2005 medical malpractice lawsuit reform. It capped non-economic damages, but not necessarily those of the "mental suffering" genre.

Whatever its eventual impact upon jury awards or local doctors and their insurance rates, this bill won't do much to mollify the common perception that lawyers see others' calamities as events to be exploited for their own financial gain.

Only the depraved among us see the death of a loved one, even when due to another's negligence, as an opportunity to strike it rich. Only the most thoughtless see a family member's fatal car accident as the high road to building generational wealth.

But ideas like this one, empowering a mother or father to collect millions extra merely because they're upset over the death of their child, suggest otherwise.

The truth is, in the face of these personal tragedies, all family members are de facto "victims" of mental suffering. That's what the trial bar was thinking in pushing this bill, which creates a no-brainer damages "up-sell" for the jury from which a plaintiff's lawyer can benefit, time and again.

H.B. 1798 isn't about securing more justice for the bereaved. Pure and simple, it's a lever to trump up legal fees.

Governor Blagojevich-- it deserves your veto.

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