Business interests scrambled Monday to oppose legislation being advanced in Springfield that would expand liability for persons exposed to toxins during construction projects by eliminating a 10-year statute of repose.
According to a report in Capitol Fax, asbestos attorney and Illinois Trial Lawyers Association President John Cooney argued for passage at a House Judiciary Committee hearing saying that the asbestos-related disease mesothelioma does not manifest for at least 10 years, so the statute limits the ability for some to bring suit.
But a second amendment to Senate Bill 2221 , which passed yesterday in a 10-6 party line committee vote, would add exposures over and above asbestos to include “any pollutant, including any waste, hazardous substance, irritant, or contaminant (including, but not limited to, smoke, vapor, soot, fumes, acids, alkalis, asbestos, toxic or corrosive chemicals, radioactive waste, or mine tailings).”
Mark Denzler, vice president and chief operating officer of the Illinois Manufacturers’ Association, called the amendment introduced two days before Thanksgiving the “veto session surprise.”
Denzler said the trial lawyer initiative would create a “wide open avenue” for litigation claiming exposure back 10 to 50 years. It could also create unlimited liability into the future.
The IMA was among approximately 40 business groups that came out in opposition to the amendment, which was introduced by State Rep. Elaine Nekritz (D-Buffalo Grove).
While a third amendment introduced Tuesday removed the inclusion of “any pollutants” in the bill’s language to refer only to asbestos, Denzler said the IMA remains opposed to the elimination of the statute of repose, saying it would be detrimental to business interests.
The amendments were tacked onto an unrelated bill that has been kept alive since it was first filed in February 2013 which deals with the handling of reimbursements correctional facilities receive.
Illinois Civil Justice League President Ed Murnane called the effort to fast track the bill during veto session, a "last-minute and desperate attempt" to change rules before a new governor is sworn-in and a new legislative session begins.
He also compared the rush to pass the bill to an 11th hour attempt "by some of the wealthiest Illinois trial lawyers " to unseat Justice Lloyd Karmeier in his bid for retention to the Illinois Supreme Court on Nov. 4.
Partners of Stephen Tillery in St. Louis and Robert Clifford of Chicago, as well as others, spent more than $2 million in a negative attack launched about two weeks before the election.
"That attempt failed and I hope the current attempt meets the same fate, although their chances are better that they will be able to put one final trial lawyer stamp on the Illinois General Assembly during the Quinn Administration," Murnane stated.
"If their new bill has merit, let the General Assembly and the new Governor consider it next year. Why rush to do something that fewer than a handful of other states have done?"