Civil Case Plaintiffs Weigh In On Caps In Tort Reform

From the Associated Press

Plaintiffs in medical-malpractice and wrongful-death lawsuits weighed in Tuesday about the impact of jury award limits as Illinois lawmakers began debating whether to make changes to the state’s tort reform law.

Democratic Speaker Michael Madigan called a meeting of the Illinois House to hear testimony on tort reform, which Gov. Bruce Rauner has made a component of his pro-business agenda. This is the second hearing in two weeks — a similar one on Rauner’s pension reform proposal is scheduled for Wednesday — with the purpose of poking holes in the Republican governor’s priorities.

Rauner has said tort reform is a way to save employers money, as Democratic and Republican lawmakers meet with his administration behind closed doors in an attempt to forge compromise with the governor’s “Turnaround Illinois” agenda and next year’s state budget. Democrats want Rauner to consider raising taxes to help balance the budget, but he has said he will only consider doing so if the legislature approves some of his priorities.

Family members of malpractice victims testified for several hours Tuesday about how their lives changed because of mistakes made by doctors and other medical professionals, describing how caps in Missouri and Indiana limit how much can be awarded from a jury decision.

John Pastuovic of the Illinois Civil Justice League, which argues that too much litigation hurts the business environment, said Illinois has become a magnet for plaintiff attorneys across the country because of the “lawsuit-friendly courts.” A report from the group found disparities in case filing and verdict totals between Cook and five southern Illinois counties versus the rest of the state.


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Opinions


How The Tort Juggernaut Trolls For Clients

From Tiger Joyce, President of the American Tort Reform Association

It has been more than 15 years since former Supreme Court Justice David Souter referred to asbestos litigation as an “elephantine mass,” the most massive of mass torts in America for decades. Though the U.S. epidemiological peak for mesothelioma—the incurable cancer caused by significant inhalation of asbestos fibers—came and went in the early 1990s, roughly 2,000-3,000 new claims for compensation are filed each year.

Yet recent events have raised serious questions about personal-injury law firms’ aggressive recruitment of asbestos clients and the legitimacy of the claims they file. In 2012, a jury found two Pittsburgh-based plaintiffs’ lawyers liable for fraud in a multimillion-dollar civil racketeering case brought against them by CSX Transportation. The company had alleged that the lawyers had worked with a radiologist to falsify chest X-rays to pursue asbestos-related claims against CSX. (The lawyers appealed, but then settled without admitting wrongdoing.)

Also last year a federal judge presiding over the bankruptcy of Garlock Sealing Technologies, a manufacturer targeted with asbestos suits, found that “manipulation of exposure evidence” had been perpetrated by several plaintiffs’ firms. And former New York state Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver was arrested and indicted earlier this year for allegedly using his influence in Albany to steer asbestos clients to a law firm that had paid him millions.

With such law firms collectively spending roughly $30 million annually on television advertising alone to recruit asbestos clients, according to analysis by the Silverstein Group, it’s worth asking how the mass marketing of mass torts affects the civil justice system. If there is fierce competition among firms for a finite number of legitimate clients, does the need to recoup marketing expenses create perverse incentives to pursue speculative or even illegitimate claims, for instance, blaming lifelong smokers’ lung cancers on supposed secondhand trace exposures to asbestos dust decades earlier?

Of course, defending against fraudulent claims imposes costs on the customers, employees and shareholders of targeted companies. But it’s also fair to ask whether overwhelmed court dockets put an undue burden on taxpayers, and whether future legitimate claimants will be crowded out if compensation funds are exhausted.

Asbestos isn’t the only mass tort being marketed by the plaintiffs’ bar. Law firms hoping to force gigantic settlements out of makers of surgically implanted pelvic mesh have spent an estimated $52 million last year to troll for clients, according to the Silverstein Group.

Although various physicians consider pelvic mesh to be the best available treatment for many of the millions of women who suffer what are known as pelvic floor disorders, these lawyer campaigns have generated more than 100,000 claims, making this America’s fastest-growing mass tort.

But a defense motion filed in federal multidistrict litigation in January offered extensive evidence of seemingly wholesale fraud in recruiting mesh plaintiffs. Transcripts of recruiters’ cold-calls to unsuspecting women who had not even undergone mesh implants showed brazen invitations to lie to collect “$30,000 to $40,000.” The motion also alleged unlawful invasions of many women’s medical privacy, which raises still more questions about what may be motivating hackers in recent health-care data breaches.

Another would-be mass tort is spreading like a prairie fire throughout the Midwest. Plaintiffs’ lawyers are using television, radio, websites, direct mail and meet-and-greets with corn farmers to market meritless litigation blaming a recent drop in corn prices not on supply and demand but on Syngenta, the developer of a genetically modified, pest-resistant corn seed.

Read the entire commentary at the Wall Street Journal…

News Update


Rauner: Expect A Very Long Extra Session

From the Chicago Daily Herald

Gov. Bruce Rauner and lawmakers were doing battle in April 2015 over a state budget created in May 2014.

That’s something to keep in mind as Illinois Republicans and Democrats get ready to enter the “final” week of their annual scheduled session in Springfield.

The specter of possible big cutbacks has mobilized suburban mayors, school leaders and taxpayers to pay more attention than usual to the state’s spending plan.

It might be a long haul for them. If the Democratic majority in the coming days sends Rauner a spending plan he has not agreed to, the governor could be left with tough decisions over what gets funded that will continue throughout the year.

Plus, Rauner needs some support Democrats to win approval for his policy agenda, and if they’re going along without him on the budget, he might lose a key point of leverage. He showed Thursday he didn’t plan to back down.

“If legislators are willing to reform how we do business, they will find me an eager partner,” Rauner wrote in a Springfield State Journal-Register op-ed. “If they are not, then they should expect a very long extra session because I will keep fighting for major reforms that will grow jobs and help properly fund services by shrinking waste inside government.”

Read more in our daily News Update…