General Assembly approves bill to cap attorneys' fees in med mal cases

A measure to cap attorneys’ fees in medical malpractice cases has passed the Illinois General Assembly. The House of Representatives on Monday approved the measure --Senate Floor Amendment No. 2 to House Bill 5151—on a vote of 67 to 46. It now heads to Gov. Pat Quinn for final approval. The Senate passed the bill late last week in a 36-15 vote. Both chambers approved HB5151 along party line votes, with Republicans voting against the legislation backed by the Illinois Trial Lawyers’ Association (ITLA). Along with a handful of other members, House Speaker Michael J. Madigan, D-Chicago, sponsored the bill in the House and Sen. James Clayborne Jr., D-Belleville, sponsored it in the Senate with two other lawmakers. If Quinn signs HB5151 into law, attorneys’ fees in med mal cases will be capped at one-third of a plaintiff’s award and lawyers will not be able to petition the court for higher fees. ITLA President Gregory Shevlin told The Record last week that his association pushed the bill in an attempt to create fairness in the attorneys’ fee system. Under current law, plaintiffs’ attorneys in med mal cases can only seek fees of one-third of the first $150,000 of a med mal award, 25 percent of the next $850,000 recovered and 20 percent of any award more than $1 million. Plaintiffs’ attorneys in other types of cases, however, typically seek and get one-third of an award, Shevlin said, adding that with all of the work that goes into handling those cases, med mal attorneys should not be treated differently. The Illinois State Medical Society (ISMS) voiced opposition to the bill during legislative committees and has asked its members on its website to urge Quinn to veto HB5151. The group contends that if approved, HB5151 would “roll back previously-enacted reforms to the contingency fee structure funded by medical liability awards and verdicts” with the goal of giving “lawyers a significant, automatic boost in the portion of the patient’s award they take off the top.” According to the ISMS's website, the bill would increase attorneys’ fees on a $10 million award in a med mal case from about $2.06 million to $3.33 million. Besides attorneys’ fees, HB5151 also calls for a cleanup to the Code of Civil Procedure to conform to two Illinois Supreme Court rulings on med mal reform laws (Best v. Taylor Machine Works and Lebron v. Gottlieb Memorial Hospital). In addition, HB5151 includes a provision that would create a $250 million cap on the amount of money defendants in civil litigation against tobacco companies have to post as bond in order to appeal a ruling.

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