It has been nearly 10 years since a tragic accident took the life of Michael P. Ready at the Midwest Generation EME LLC factory in Joliet. No one disputes that Ready's family is entitled to compensation, but the question of who should pay has thrust this case into the public limelight for far too long.
Ready's family sued Midwest, BMW Constructors Inc., the general contractor of the jobsite and United/Goedecke Services, the scaffolding subcontractor. Both Midwest and BMW settled with the Ready family. This left United/Goedecke Services as the sole defendant in the case. The jury awarded the plaintiffs $14,230,000 in 2003, and according to the apportionment, United/Goedecke was on the hook for $8.137 million.
United/Goedecke Services wanted to present evidence against Midwest and BMW and to include them on the jury verdict forms for the purposes of including them in the fault apportionment – a request that was ultimately denied. Late last year, the Illinois Supreme Court ruled that defendants who settle were exempt from being included in the jury verdict forms.
But then the High Court ordered the appeals court to consider if the trial court had failed to provide proper sole proximate instruction, which informs a jury that if another party was the sole cause of the plaintiff's injury then the jury must rule in favor of the defendant.
The appeals court recently ruled that a new trial should take place because evidence of Midwest and BMW's conduct was excluded. The plaintiffs are appealing the ruling to the Illinois Supreme Court.
This case is a clear example of what is wrong with Illinois courts. All United/Goedecke wants is an opportunity to present evidence of the negligence of other defendants who settled before this evidence could be presented. Why should they be held more liable just because they were the last ones standing at the end of the trial?
In the end, the jury may or may not buy United/Goedecke's arguments, but the company should at least be allowed to make their case, which is what the appeals court determined in their ruling. The appeals court ruling is certainly a positive development, but should it have taken nearly 10 years to get to this moment of clarity?
It is no wonder that Illinois is ranked 46th out of 50 states for legal fairness according to a report from the respected Harris polling company. Cases such as the Ready v. United/Goedecke Services case only serve to underscore the need for vast improvements in Illinois' legal climate. When it takes nearly 10 years to get to a point where a defendant finally has an outside chance of getting a fair shake in court, something is wrong.
Potential employers who are watching this case unfold have to question the wisdom of investing their time and resources in Illinois. Factor in the state's culture of political corruption and high taxes that are only going to get higher and it is easy to see why Illinois' unemployment rate is in double digits.
It is time for lawmakers to pay attention to what is happening in our courts. The Ready v. United/Goedecke Services case is just one more example of the many reasons why Illinois continues to be the "Lawsuit Capital of the Midwest."
Lawmakers failed to approve legal reforms last spring. It is up to us to continue to put pressure on them to finally do the right thing and bring some common sense back to our courts.