While you weren't looking, the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association (ITLA) has quietly introduced legislation that would squeeze still more money out of law-abiding citizens and businesses across the state.

Common sense teaches that if you are sued and held liable, you should be responsible for only the damages you caused. But the Trial Lawyers are pushing legislation to have verdicts based on your ability to pay, rather than how much you are at fault.

Imagine you are driving and a drunk driver crosses into your lane and plows into the car ahead of you. Unable to stop in time, you skid into the same car.

There is minimal damage to your car and you were not hurt. But the driver of the car hit by the drunk driver is badly injured and sues both the drunk driver and you. The drunk who caused the crash has no insurance or money so the injured driver settles with him for little or nothing.

But you have a job, a house, a college fund and insurance, so your lawsuit goes to court. Under current law, the jury would determine your percentage of fault by taking into account the percentage of fault of the drunk driver, who has already settled. It is a fair approach that makes common sense.

Under the Trial Lawyers' plan (SB 1296) the jury would not be allowed to consider the fault of the drunk driver. You would end up paying all the damages. And, if those damages exceeded the policy limit, your assets, like your retirement savings and that college fund, would be at risk.

A second bill (HB 1798) would allow a jury to award damages for the grief, sorrow and mental anguish of the surviving spouse and next of kin under the Wrongful Death Act.

The Act was originally enacted to provide recovery for the financial loss resulting from a person's death - grief, sorrow and mental anguish do not constitute financial injuries.

Wrongful death verdicts are already skyrocketing. From 2002 through 2005, the average wrongful death verdict in Illinois (outside of Cook County) ranged between $3,165,746 and $3,948,105. The largest wrongful death verdicts (again outside of Cook County) grew to $27,000,000 in 2005.

If either bill becomes law, the cost of doing business in Illinois will increase, insurance premiums will skyrocket, and companies will be following their doctors out of state. That is why Illinois' residents and businesses need to stop these attempts to manipulate our civil justice system.

Local Legislators that may support these bills are Senators William Haine and James Clayborn, as well as Representative Jay Hoffman. We urge you to voice your opposition.

Jeffrey S. Hebrank is president-elect of the Illinois Association of Defense Trial Counsel and partner with Hepler Broom in Edwardsville.
(618) 307-1129

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