To the Editor:
A legal system fair to the interests of individuals and businesses not only ensures a level playing field for both parties – it also protects the taxpayer. But if Gov. Bruce Rauner has his way, the burden of caring for injured persons would shift from the companies that caused the harm to the taxpayers.
In his State of the State address, Gov. Rauner renewed his attack on our courts and his demand that lawmakers roll back the financial safeguards that our state’s workers’ compensation and tort systems afford to the vast majority of Illinoisans.
Across Illinois, seniors, individuals with disabilities and other vulnerable citizens are going without vital services because Gov. Rauner is holding the budget hostage until he succeeds in upending our legal system – among other items in his agenda. Yet his proposals relating to workers’ compensation and tort cases would do nothing to improve the state’s financial standing or fund the state services necessary to support individuals in need of critical assistance.
The governor and his big business and insurance supporters continue their push to undercut the rights of injured workers in order to maximize insurance industry profits. They ignore the fact that the 2011 rewrite of the workers’ compensation system – those changes sought by the business community, and which were largely to the detriment of men and women injured on the job – is producing the desired result: lower costs for insurance companies and employers.
As the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission stated in its FY 2014 report, Illinois employers experienced the largest decrease in workers’ comp premiums among all 50 states. And the commission anticipates further savings once the full effects of the 2011 workers’ comp overhaul are felt.
No matter how many benefits are cut, medical reimbursements are lowered, and claims are denied, the state’s businesses won’t see additional savings without our leaders addressing the promises previously broken by the insurance industry. Strictly regulating insurance premiums, not further curtailing injured workers’ rights, is the key to managing employers’ workers’ compensation costs.
The governor also seeks to squelch the civil justice system’s authority to hold wrongdoers accountable in an effort to shield the profits of his big business allies – at the expense of those who suffer due to their malfeasance and the taxpayers who would be left holding the bill.
More than 70 percent of court actions in Illinois are initiated by businesses suing other businesses or individuals for money, but the governor has not proposed limiting the access of corporations, banks and investment companies to the court system. The fact is that very few injured Americans ever file lawsuits. In Illinois, the number of civil cases filed has dropped 33 percent from 2010 to 2014.
Eroding the constitutional rights of citizens to access the courts that their tax dollars fund would send the message that our civil justice system is mainly for the use of corporate actors and the wealthy, rather than something that belongs to everyone, regardless of their means.
Gov. Rauner should abandon his campaign to enlist our legal system into the exclusive service of his phenomenally wealthy supporters, and instead focus on real, meaningful solutions to fix our state’s problems. The state budget cannot be balanced on the backs of those injured due to no fault of their own.
Perry Browder, President
Illinois Trial Lawyers Association