Civil justice reform advocates cheered as an anti-business proposal was exiled to the House Rules Committee on the last day of the state legislature's spring session.
House Bill 2094, an effort to revive the Structural Work Act, sputtered May 31 as lawmakers wrapped up business in Springfield before heading home for summer. The bill, sponsored by the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association, would have allowed workers injured on the job to sue third parties outside of the workers' compensation system.
Ed Murnane, president of the Illinois Civil Justice League, said "seeds of doubt" planted in Democrats "who would normally have been expected to go along with the trial lawyers" helped derail the legislation.
Murnane wrote in a commentary published Monday that legislators "heard from the folks back home."
"Thousands of phone calls and e-mails and letters were sent to legislators," Murnane wrote. "We know because we encouraged our members and supporters to contact their legislators and even those who didn't know what the Structural Work Act was all about responded when they learned what it was about."
The Structural Work Act was repealed in Illinois in January 1995, and in its place, workers were protected by stricter enforcement of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards.
The SWA allowed injured workers to sue companies other than their own employer that were involved in workplace accidents, even if the incident was the fault of the injured party. It also allowed injured workers to collect workers' compensation while seeking damages from other parties.
New York is currently the only state that has such a law.
Travis Akin, executive director of Illinois Lawsuit Abuse Watch said HB2094 would have negatively impacted nearly every employer in the state.
"Clearly, the public outcry and the grassroots efforts of groups such as Illinois Lawsuit Abuse Watch worked," Akin said.
Akin said that since the SWA was repealed, Illinois has added more than 60,000 construction jobs and has also contributed to a safer work environment.
"We have more construction jobs and a safer work environment since the Structural Work Act was repealed," Akin said. "There is no need to revive this antiquated law. It would cripple our economy and would do nothing to help foster a safer work environment."
While Murnane commented that the SWA is "dead for now," he cautioned, "[N]othing is ever really dead in Springfield."