State Rep. Dwight Kay (R-Glen Carbon) is sponsoring civil justice reform legislation that targets joint and several liability, venue and premises liability. House Bill 1902 would make sure businesses and individuals found liable in civil suits pay their fair share of damages.
House Bill 17 would require civil lawsuits against non-residents be filed only in the county in which an injury or transaction occurred and would disallow lawsuits against non-residents if no injury or transaction took place in Illinois.
House Bill 1899 would provide that a property owner owes no duty of care to an adult trespasser other than to refrain from willful and wanton conduct that would endanger the safety of a known trespasser.
Kay said current law allows personal injury lawyers to target deep pockets in cases involving multiple defendants, thanks to a recent Illinois Supreme Court ruling Ready v. United/Goedecke Services.. Under the ruling, defendants can potentially be on the hook for 100 percent of the damages even if they are only 1 percent at fault.
"Defendants should only have to pay for the portion of the damages they actually caused," Kay said.
"House Bill 1902 is an attempt to restore fairness and balance in Illinois courts. It is a common-sense reform the state desperately needs."
Kay, along with Al Adomite of the Illinois Civil Justice (ICJL) and Travis Akin of Illinois Lawsuit Abuse Watch (I-LAW), joined forces Friday to talk about the reform package as a means to create a better business climate in Illinois.
In a press release, the group noted that Madison and St. Clair counties are "inching their way toward reclaiming the region's former 'judicial hellhole' status."
The group cited St. Clair County's growing asbestos docket – which like Madison County includes mainly claims of out-of-state residents -- as a potential national clearinghouse for asbestos cases.
"Enticing more out-of-state cases to the local court jurisdictions in Madison and St. Clair Counties is not exactly the formula to improve the region's legal climate," Adomite said. "What Madison and St. Clair Counties need is more jobs – not more lawsuits."
The Fifth District Appellate Court is currently reviewing whether four asbestos cases filed in St. Clair County in December by out of state plaintiffs should remain there.
"Madison County already is a destination jurisdiction for asbestos cases from all across the country," Akin said. "If the Fifth District Appellate Court decides to allow St. Clair County to keep these cases, St. Clair County will be well on its way toward becoming another destination jurisdiction for mesothelioma cases just like Madison County."
Adomite and Akin said anti-business policies originating in the state legislature have made it difficult for border communities in Illinois to compete for more jobs and opportunities.
They pointed to Wisconsin's direct pitch to Illinois employers and its legal reforms as "blatant" attempts to lure businesses away from Illinois.
"The Wisconsin legislature has approved sweeping legal reforms to make the state more attractive to prospective employers," Akin said. "Here in Illinois, we should not let Wisconsin take the lead on legal reform. Enacting legal reforms would send a message to job creators that we are serious about job growth in Illinois and unlike the recent income tax hike – legal reforms won't cost taxpayers one penny."
Adomite said the proposed venue reform legislation (HB 17) establishes common sense guidelines on where a civil lawsuit can be filed in Illinois.
"Improving Illinois' venue laws would be a significant step forward in not only attracting new businesses but also keeping the ones we already have," Adomite said. "The ability of personal injury lawyers to shop for the right venue for their cases in Illinois is a significant reason why Illinois continues to be one of the worst states in the country for legal fairness."
Regarding the premises liability reform measure (HB 1899), Kay said property owners should not be liable for "reckless actions" of people who trespass on their property.
He said the bill re-establishes provisions in premise liability law that the Illinois Supreme Court struck down in the Best v. Taylor Machine Works ruling in 1997, by not requiring property owners to do anything beyond making sure they refrain from willful and wanton conduct that would endanger the safety of a known trespasser
"Correcting a serious wrong in Illinois civil law is what this legislation is all about," he said.