A bill that would reverse a 2015 state Supreme Court decision by allowing workers with latent diseases to sue their employers passed the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday in an 8-2 vote.
Senate Bill 1596, sponsored by Sen. Elgie R. Sims, Jr. (D-Chicago), would amend the Illinois Workers' Compensation Act and Workers' Occupational Diseases Act by lifting restrictions for when occupational disease lawsuits, such as asbestos death or injury, can be filed.
State Sen. Rachelle Crowe (D-Wood River), who serves on Judiciary, voted in favor of the bill, but declined to comment.
The proposal is supported by the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association, Citizens Action Illinois and the Illinois Federation of Teachers and seeks to overturn law that time-bars workers' claims against former employers, as decided four years ago in Folta v. Ferro Engineering.
In Folta, where the plaintiff sued 41 years after he was employed at a plant owned by the defendant, the Supreme Court upheld a provision of the Workers' Compensation Act that imposes a 25-year statute of repose for occupational injury and a three-year statute for occupational disease.
By the time Folta was diagnosed with peritoneal mesothelioma, he was time-barred in filing a work comp claim. So, instead he filed a tort claim in Cook County Circuit Court, a case which worked its way up to the Illinois Supreme Court where Folta ultimately lost.
Opponents of SB1596 include the Illinois Civil Justice League (ICJL), US Steel, Illinois Association of Defense Trial Counsel, Chubb North America, Illinois Insurance Association, Southern Illinois Employers Association and others.
John Pastuovic, president of the ICJL, said the legislation essentially creates unlimited liability in the state's civil court system.
"It also has the effect of eliminating insurance coverage and driving more businesses out of state and more businesses into bankruptcy," he said.
"I think it's important for the business community and also for those looking to create new and meaningful jobs in Illinois to stand up and be heard. This bill is not a jobs-friendly one."
Mike Walters, who heads the business lobby organization Southwestern Illinois Employers Association (SIEA), called the proposal "sad."
"It goes hand in hand with the progressive handbook," he said. "They are progressives who don't care about business. They are trying to run all of them out of state.
"If you saw all the bills they were passing, they're horrible. I don't know what business would want to move here."
Walters also is a Madison County board member, serving as the county Judiciary Committee chair.
State Sen. Jason Plummer (R-Vandalia) said the reason why other states economically outperform Illinois is because of legislation such as this proposal.
"Clearly, it was drafted for a narrow constituency to the detriment of hard working people," he said. "It would be nice if legislation focused on improving our overall economy and quality of life for all Illinoisans, rather than focusing on a politically connected constituency that writes big campaign checks."
Plummer's reference relates to the trial bar, whose members are big contributors in state politics. Last year alone, trial lawyers contributed more than $3.4 million to committees and candidates likely to support their agenda.
Other senators who supported the bill in Judiciary include:
Ann Gillespie (D-Arlington Heights)
Michael Hastings (D-Frankfort)
John Mulroe (D-Chicago)
Don Harmon (D-Oak Park)
Toi Hutchinson (D-Chicago Heights)
Paul Schimpf (R-Murphysboro)
Jason Barickman (R-Bloomington)
Jil Tracy (R-Quincy)