State's plaintiffs' lawyers must have better job forecast for Illinois

Ed Murnane Feb. 15, 2009, 1:50am

The Illinois State Bar Association and its close ally, the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association, must have secret job forecasts for Illinois that are much rosier than the gloomy predictions almost universally accepted by economists and state and local governments.

And perhaps Madison County is the only one of 102 Illinois counties that is not worried about continued job loss.

How else could anyone explain and justify the bill introduced in the Illinois Senate last week to require/establish prejudgment interest payments on liability cases in Illinois?

And Senator Bill Haine, the Madison County Democrat who sponsored the bill, must have some inside information that other government officials in Madison County don't have.

After all, Illinois (as most other states) is losing jobs. The forecast for 2009 is a loss of 147,200 jobs. That comes from the University of Illinois.

The concrete numbers -- not academic projections -- come from the actual filings of lay-off notices at the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity.

The fact is that Illinois employers -- some of the major employers such as Motorola and Caterpillar -- are hurting this year as they did last year and dollars are so tight that workforces are being trimmed. Last year, 100,000 jobs were lost in Illinois, including 36,000 manufacturing jobs.

Yet that's not stopping the plaintiffs' trial lawyers from trying to find more ways to wring dollars out of corporate defendants, and that includes doctors and hospitals.

The proposed legislation -- it's Senate Bill 184 -- requires that interest must be paid on damage awards (either via judgment or arbitration) from the time the claim is made.

If enacted, that means a defendant who loses a case would have to pay interest on the award dating back to the time the lawsuit was filed.

It wouldn't make any difference if any delays in the resolution of the case were caused by the plaintiff (as they frequently are) or by the court system itself, which may be overworked an overloaded. Under this proposed law, every day of delay could cost the defendant more if the plaintiff prevails.

The obvious intent is to coerce defendants to settle claims before liability can be determined and damages are determined.

The "way out" for the defendant is to reach an early settlement -- even if all the facts of the situation are not yet known.

This is a plaintiffs' trial lawyer bill. Although the Illinois State Bar Association has proposed it, ISBA and the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association typically walk hand in hand and this is another example.

The ISBA meeting in December at which the resolution in support of this legislation was passed involved serious debate between pro-plaintiff members of ISBA and others. As usual at ISBA, the plaintiffs' side prevailed.

One tactic used by ISBA to promote this misguided bill was to suggest that the American Tort Reform Association was in favor of it.

I happen to be on the board of directors of the American Tort Reform Association and that is a distortion of ATRA's view -- and ISBA knew that.

What is particularly disturbing with this current proposal, however, is the complete disregard that ISBA -- and apparently ITLA -- have with the economic environment in Illinois today.

One expert on Illinois law stated:

"Illinois law is already plaintiff-oriented. This bill would make it even more expensive for businesses to operate in Illinois and within the Illinois legal system. For example, consider recent Illinois Supreme Court cases involving joint and several liability of defendants and the relaxation of standards for the proof of damages by the plaintiff are clear indications that defendants face uphill battles when litigating in Illinois courts. This bill would strike yet another blow to any semblance of fairness in the Illinois legal system. This increased expense is particularly troublesome in the current economic downturn when many Illinois businesses are already struggling to survive."

Illinois businesses -- big and small -- are hurting, which hurts Illinois workers. In fact, it reduces the number of Illinois workers. Even Illinois law firms are hurting. One of Chicago's largest, McDermott Will and Emery, last week announced a significant reduction in staff.

Madison County residents, who enjoy being out of the "judicial hellhole" spotlight, should let Senator Haine know they don't like this effort to put all of Illinois in "hellhole" status.

This proposed law doesn't determine the "winner" or "loser" of litigation. If an injured party -- the plaintiff -- prevails, an award is made -- hopefully a fair award. The amount of that award already is subjective and other factors don't need to be introduced.

But in today's economy, Illinois legislators should take a careful look at the impact on Illinois employers -- and employees -- that yet another trial lawyer-friendly proposal would have.

A simple question to ask: Would this bill, SB 184, help or hurt Illinois employers (not counting trial lawyers)?

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501 Southwest Jefferson Avenue
Peoria, IL 61605

Illinois Trial Lawyers Association
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Springfield, IL 62704

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