Lawmakers just wrapped up the fall veto session but not before giving personal injury lawyers the ultimate parting gift.
The veto session is intended to deal with any veto handed down by the governor before a new General Assembly session begins in January and is not intended to deal with new legislation. But in the waning hours of this year's six day veto session, the personal injury lawyers and their allies in the General Assembly pulled a fast one and sneakily rammed through an amendment to an unrelated bill that will make it much easier for trial lawyers to file lawsuits in Illinois.
This newly amended bill eliminates the state's 10-year "statute of repose" on the exposure to asbestos on building sites during construction projects, which means lawsuits arising from asbestos exposure at construction sites will have no time restrictions.
This is the ultimate Christmas present for personal injury lawyers and a lump of coal in the stockings of all Madison County residents who will see jobs disappear as a result of this legislation, because this bill will open up a whole new way for personal injury lawyers to file asbestos lawsuits in Illinois.
One county in Illinois, Madison County, already attracts about one quarter of the nation’s asbestos lawsuits despite only having .08% of the nation's population, and 9 out of 10 plaintiffs filing asbestos-related lawsuits in Madison County do not live or work in the county. Just recently, a whopping 181 new asbestos lawsuits were set for trial on just one day, and all but one of those were from plaintiffs who live outside of Madison County.
For far too long, Illinois has been a haven for frivolous lawsuits, which has driven away businesses and kept other employers from moving here. Aggressive personal injury lawyers have transformed Illinois from the "Land of Lincoln" into the "Land of Lawsuits," and now they've worked behind the scenes to pass legislation that will make it even easier for them to file lawsuits here. This 11th hour backroom money grab will only result in more lawsuits and ultimately less jobs and opportunities for Illinois residents.
Illinois needs to be creating jobs, not more ways to file lawsuits. Governor-elect Rauner has already pledged to make common sense lawsuit reform a top priority next year, following the lead of neighboring states like Wisconsin that have attracted new businesses to their state as a result of enacting lawsuit reforms.
Unfortunately, the early Christmas gift to the personal injury lawyers from our lame duck legislature that will make it easier to file asbestos-related lawsuits here is not likely to be reversed by the General Assembly next year, so it will be up to our judges to stand up to the trial lawyers and sanction them for filing lawsuits here that have nothing to do with Illinois.
The personal injury lawyers have long had cozy relationships with Madison County judges, and in one memorable instance, three asbestos firms gave a judge $30,000 in campaign funds just days after that judge awarded those firms over 80% of coveted trial slots for 2013.
But we’re seeing signs that voters are getting fed up with these shenanigans. Last month, the judge who oversaw the asbestos docket in Madison County, which set new records for lawsuits field under his watch, was voted out of office.
Voters will be watching judges closely to see what they’ll do with the expected new flood of asbestos lawsuits that have nothing to do with Illinois. Standing up to the personal injury lawyers and dismissing lawsuits from plaintiffs who do not live or work in Madison County should be every judge’s New Year’s resolution.
Travis Akin is Executive Director of Illinois Lawsuit Abuse Watch.