Testimony begins tomorrow on tort reform bills

Amelia Flood May 4, 2009, 7:45am


Proponents of civil justice reform are set to testify in support of several bills tomorrow at a joint hearing of the General Assembly's Senate and House Judiciary Committees.

The hearing on bills seeking to reform expert witness standards, prevent "venue shopping" and to protect employees serving on juries begins at 10 a.m. at the State Capitol. A House resolution to create a taskforce on electronic public records also is on the table.

All three bills were sponsored by State Sen. Kirk Dillard (R-Hinsdale) and have been sitting at the committee level. A similar jury reform bill, sponsored by State Rep. Sidney Mathias (R-Arlington Heights), is at the committee level in the House.

Among those testifying will be members of the Illinois Civil Justice League (ICJL), a group dedicated to advancing civil justice reform statewide. President Ed Murnane called the hearing a chance to "talk about how we can compromise to improve the judicial system in Illinois," in a press release Friday.

Other groups are hoping the hearing means more than a compromise.

Travis Akin, executive director of Illinois Lawsuit Abuse Watch (I-
LAW) cited Illinois' national reputation and urged lawmakers to act decisively for the good of the state, not just its legal system.

"If we are going to attract new jobs and opportunities, then we need to make reforming our legal system a priority," Akin said in a press release. "It is time we put the brakes on out-of-state personal injury lawyers from targeting Illinois as a great place to file their junk lawsuits."

The expert witness bill tackles an issue that has been considered by the legislature before. Dillard's bill would align Illinois' expert witness qualifications with those used in the federal court systems. These rules are tighter than those that state currently applies.

Under the venue reform bill, plaintiffs would no longer be able to sue companies that do business in a county but who don't have an office there. If the bill passed out of committee as is and became law, plaintiffs would no longer be able to sue a company in Illinois unless at least one defendant has an office or headquarters in that county.

The jury reform bill would increase the amount of money paid to those serving on a jury. It would also guarantee that employees be granted time off for their jury service. A person's jury service could be postponed if the juror works for a company with five or fewer employees.

The bill also raises the fine for failing to appear for jury duty.

The expert witness bill is SB-1963.

The venue reform bill is SB-1965.

The jury reform bill is SB-1903. The House version is HB-4002.

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