Rauner, Business Look For Workers’ Comp Changes

From the State Journal-Register

In a speech at the University of Chicago last week, Gov. Bruce Rauner provided what he said was a preview of his upcoming State of the State speech.

Rauner ticked off a list of issues the state must address, including runaway Medicaid costs, what he said are public employee salaries that are too high compared with the private sector, and workers’ compensation reform.

“This is about competitiveness,” Rauner said. “Workers’ compensation is a big issue, especially in manufacturing, construction, transportation. We are in the bottom 10 states. Why can’t we be at least average?”

A study issued last fall by the Oregon Department of Consumer and Business Services said Illinois ranked seventh in workers’ compensation premium costs. That’s despite a round of changes made in 2011 that the Illinois Department of Insurance said resulted in lower workers’ compensation premiums in the state.

“We don’t have to be the lowest,” Rauner said. “We don’t have to be the best on this issue, but we have to be competitive.”

However, the governor did not outline what he proposes to do to lower those costs.

Still, in a policy paper the Rauner campaign released last summer called the “Jobs and Growth Agenda,” Rauner laid out ideas he was were “common-sense reforms” that should be adopted “to reduce unnecessary cost pressures on job creators while at the same time preserving benefits for workers injured on the job.”

Among those ideas, Rauner said that employers should only be responsible for injuries that occur due to the worker’s employment, that they should not be responsible for injuries a worker suffers while commuting to a job, and that changes should be made to prevent an injured worker from “doctor shopping” to find a more sympathetic physician.


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Opinions


Madison County: Still America’s Lawsuit Field Of Dreams

From Lisa Rickard, President of the US Chamber Institute for Legal Reform

If awards were given to courts that made the biggest impact in mega litigation, Madison County would surely be in the hall of fame.

For more than a decade, the little county in the metro-east has been the nation’s home field for lawsuits. And though Madison County is a veteran of the litigation big leagues, it is showing no signs of slowing down. This despite attention that helped spawn a major federal law written in large measure to counter the county court’s questionable practices.

That is why on Tuesday, the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform launched a public awareness campaign to bring fresh attention to the continuing problems of Madison County lawsuits.

Madison County burst on the scene as a national class action venue around the turn of the century. From 1996 to 2003, its class action docket exploded 5,000 percent, according to analysis of court filings, fueled by cases with plaintiffs and defendants almost exclusively from outside its borders.

This happened because the county was stocked with plaintiffs’-lawyer-friendly judges who refused to dismiss cases as the law demands, despite no local connection by either party. Keeping out-of-state cases in the plaintiffs’ lawyer home field forced lots of big settlements. And big settlements attract more lawsuits.

In 2005, Congress passed and President George W. Bush signed the Class Action Fairness Act to stop plaintiffs’ lawyers from bringing out-of-state cases to lawsuit-friendly state courts — a practice known as venue shopping — by removing them to federal courts.

The law worked. Out-of-state class actions in Madison County and other plaintiffs’-lawyer-friendly jurisdictions plummeted, and for a time, there was hope that the courthouse in Edwardsville would become a fairer jurisdiction, reserved for its own citizens rather than people from Minnesota or Florida.

But it wasn’t to be. At the same time that the new federal law was removing misplaced, class actions in Madison County courts, asbestos case filings — which were also high but saw a brief decline in the mid-2000s — rose again precipitously. Madison County shifted from a class action mecca to an asbestos super docket, with the same old out-of-state cases tactic.

According to public case filings, in 2013, a record 1,660 asbestos cases were brought in Madison County. Only 20 of those involved people who actually live there. The other 99 percent were plaintiffs from places like Texas, California or just about anywhere other than Madison County.

Read the entire commentary.

News Update


Juror Pay-increase Plan To Get New Look?

From the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin

Weeks after passing a measure to bump jurors’ pay, one lawmaker has introduced a bill to curtail that plan.

Last month, then-Gov. Patrick J. Quinn signed legislation decreasing the number of jurors in every civil trial from 12 to six and increasing their compensation to a minimum $25 on the first day of service and $50 every day thereafter.

The law is slated to take effect June 1.

But the sponsor of that bill has filed a new measure to instead let counties determine their own juror fees based on the previous law, which sets the daily minimum at $4, $5 or $10, depending on population.

Senate Bill 59, sponsored by Sen. John G. Mulroe, doesn’t include consideration for traveling expenses and, as current law does, places the funding burden on individual counties.

But Mulroe, a Chicago Democrat, said the bill is an early draft and he is open to suggestions on it — including asking litigants to pick up the cost of higher juror pay.

“I’m amenable to amending this at any stage before it gets out of the Senate, or when it’s in the House, just to have a more complete conversation about the issue,” he said.

Mulroe said he still wants counties to “do the right thing and find some way to treat our jurors better.”

“At the same time, I don’t want to have this undue burden placed on the county either, so I’m sort of in a little pickle here,” he said.

Read more in our daily News Update…