Outgoing Gov. Rauner decries veto override of damages cap bill, brands it 'invitation' to trial lawyers

By John Breslin | Dec 4, 2018

Outgoing Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner has decried the Illinois legislature's decision to override his veto of a bill greatly increasing the cap on the amount individuals can claim when they sue the state.

In his first post-election interview, the Republican Rauner, defeated by nearly 16 points by Democrat J.B. Pritzker, said the bill's passage will be an "incentive for the trial bar" to seek out cases.

The bill, SB 2481, raises the cap on the amount of damages sought in the Court of Common Claims from $100,000 to $2 million. Rauner vetoed the bill, but the General Assembly voted to override Nov. 29.

Legislators characterized the bill as a response to the scandal surrounding the state-run Quincy Veterans' Home, where 14 residents died of Legionnaires disease.

Incoming Gov. Pritzker said Friday he intends to encourage the state to settle 12 outstanding negligence suits, adding that "there's the opportunity now for fair settlements to be reached" following the passage of the bill increasing the cap.

But Rauner said the bill was "falsely sold as a Quincy veterans bill," largely, he argued, because it will apply to all suits against the state, not just the families of those who died.

“Now, the incentive for the trial bar, the plaintiffs bar, to go look for problems, challenge, try to find problems, sue — the risk-reward for them to spend some time proactively suing now that the balance is on the side of, ‘Yeah, go ahead and sue,'” Rauner said to reporters after the vote last Thursday, according to several media sources.

The governor added, “This is going to be a massive invitation for lawsuits. Our taxpayers could be on the hook for many millions, hundreds of millions of dollars."

"I view this as a major sop, a major giveaway to the trial lawyers who are major funders of many legislators’ campaigns,” Rauner said, adding that he believed the General Assembly should have passed legislation targeted at those affected by what happened at the Quincy home specifically.

Pritzker said there is now the opportunity to carve out a "fair settlement," adding that "there’s no doubt we’re gonna move forward and try to get justice for all the families affected."

“There were mistakes made, and I think we’re gonna have to work out going forward on a settlement basis likely what each family will receive," Pritzker told Capitol Fax.

In a statement to Capitol Fax, Tim McLean, of the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association (ITLA), said Rauner "has learned nothing over the four years of his massively failed tenure."

His "sour grapes" comments following the election loss "further solidifies his dissonance from voters and the bipartisan super majorities that overrode his reckless veto."

"It was clear from the outset to all parties that this legislation was prompted by the tragedies in Quincy, but would be applicable to claims brought by other victims as well; that issue was fully vetted in negotiations, and was made abundantly clear in floor debate," McLean said.

"If the governor felt so strongly that it should have applied only to the Quincy tragedy, why did his AV (veto) not reflect that position?," McLean said.

He added, "The truth is that Illinois was an outlier (tied for the lowest among all states) for damage caps at the Court of Claims, and the families of our heroes in Quincy would have been denied access to justice as a result of that antiquated law–as would future victims of the state’s negligence.

"This law rectifies that issue, and gives Illinoisans a reasonable opportunity to pursue justice when they are harmed. Remember, seventeen (over 1/3) of states have no cap at all."

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