SPRINGFIELD – House Speaker Michael Madigan staged a drama of pain and suffering on Tuesday, but his audience behaved like they had seen it many times before.
Representatives meeting as a committee of the whole paid closer attention to laptops and telephones than to 13 opponents of civil justice reform.
Proceedings began at noon and dragged on past 6 p.m. Representatives came and went, leaving the chamber half full at times.
In the gallery, guests chattered and phones buzzed.
The failure to focus resulted in part from the fact that Madigan’s cast had to react to proposals that don’t exist.
Gov. Bruce Rauner favors civil justice reform but has proposed nothing specific.
No legislator has introduced a reform bill.
Madigan expects Rauner to propose limits on damage awards in medical malpractice suits, so Madigan’s cast opposed that idea.
Two mothers and a father from Indiana complained that damage caps in their states reduced their recoveries, and so did a mother from Missouri.
Three Illinois mothers described injuries their children suffered from medical errors, and itemized the costs they will incur for the rest of their lives.
Madigan balanced their emotions with research from professors Bernard Black of Northwestern University and David Hyman of the University of Illinois.
Black and Hyman work together on studies and articles about damage caps.
Hyman said he and Black don’t take sides.
“Our research has annoyed people on both sides of the tort reform debate,” he said.
Black said that damage caps would not attract physicians or reduce overall spending, but it would drive down quality of care.
Madigan's witness list appeared to have taken into account Rauner's call for restraining forum shopping.
Madigan brought forth Sarah Deatherage, widow of state trooper Kyle Deatherage, as a panelist.
The Illinois Trial Lawyers Association, which backed victims who testified Tuesday, stated that Deatherage made an appearance to reject “the odious notion, advanced by those seeking to neuter Illinois’ tort laws, that a successful wrongful death lawsuit is the equivalent of winning the lottery.”
Last fall Deatherage’s lawyer, Tom Keefe of Swansea, injected the transfer of Deatherage’s lawsuit out of Madison County to Montgomery County - where Kyle Deatherage’s death took place - into the campaign against retention of Supreme Court Justice Lloyd Karmeier.
At a press conference, Keefe expressed suspicion that Karmeier manipulated Fifth District appellate judges into ordering the transfer.
Keefe proposed changing the law to give plaintiffs greater choice among courts.
Sarah Deatherage seeks damages from DOT Transportation, owner of a truck that struck her husband, and from driver Johnny Felton. The case is ongoing before Montgomery County Circuit Judge Douglas Jarman.
While the trial lawyer lobby was “putting a human face on the big money campaign to deny justice to disabled, disfigured and deceased Illinoisans” on the House floor, tort reform advocates were holding a press conference outside the House chamber denouncing tactics of the trial bar and urging lawsuit reforms.
“The personal injury lawyers want to obscure the fact that they are selfishly misusing and abusing our courts to get rich at our expense,” said Illinois Lawsuit Abuse Watch executive director Travis Akin.
“For far too long, Illinois has been a magnet for personal injury lawyers and plaintiffs from all over the country who travel to Illinois and clog our courts with junk lawsuits that have nothing to do with Illinois, all in the hopes of striking it rich playing our state’s plaintiff-friendly lawsuit lottery.”
Akin specifically pointed to asbestos lawsuits in “personal injury lawyer friendly” Madison County as an “absurd misuse of our courts and our tax dollars.”
Madison County has the largest asbestos docket in the country and more than 90 percent of the plaintiffs who file claims here are from outside Illinois.