Quinn signs ITLA bill into law

Gov. Pat Quinn on Friday put his stamp of approval on a bill that places a cap on attorneys’ fees in medical malpractice cases.

Pushed by the Illinois Trial Lawyers’ Association, Public Act 97-1145 caps these fees at one-third of a plaintiff’s award and bars lawyers from petitioning the court for higher fees.

The new law, which was introduced earlier this month as Senate Floor Amendment No. 2 to House Bill 5151, took effect Friday.

ITLA President Greg Shevlin said Tuesday he was pleased the measure successfully survived veto session and received a thumbs-up from Quinn.

Shevlin, an attorney with Cook, Ysursa, Bartholomew, Brauer & Shevlin in Belleville, said he was also pleased his group’s proposal captured more than handful of “yes” votes from Republicans, including Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno.

The bill passed the General Assembly mostly along party-lines. The Senate approved the measure on a vote of 36-15 and the House sent it to Quinn, a Democrat, on Jan. 11, just days after it approved the bill on a 67-46 vote.

In addition to the majority of the Republican lawmakers in the legislature, the Illinois State Medical Society (ISMS) opposed HB5151.

The ISMS claimed that the measure 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 will increase attorneys’ fees on a $10 million award in a med mal case from about $2.06 million to $3.33 million.

Shevlin previously said his group introduced the bill to create some fairness in the attorney’s fee system.

Under previous law, plaintiffs’ attorneys in med mal cases could 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.

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, along with two other lawmakers.

In addition to the change to the attorney’ fee structure, the new law also cleans up language in the Code of Civil Procedure to conform to a pair of Illinois Supreme Court rulings (Best v. Taylor Machine Works and Lebron v. Gottlieb Memorial Hospital).

It also includes a provision that creates 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.

Shevlin said the ITLA has not yet set its legislative agenda for the 98th General Assembly, but expects to do so in the coming weeks.

The House is set to return to Springfield for spring session Jan. 30 and the Senate is set to convene Feb. 5.

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