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A quiet lame duck win

Wednesday, Jan 30, 2013

* January’s lame duck session was a bust, but not a complete bust. The trial lawyers scored a victory. But, so far, only myself, the Madison-St. Clair Record and the Tribune have written much about this proposal. The Record

Gov. Pat Quinn on Friday put his stamp of approval on a bill that places a cap on attorneys’ fees in medical malpractice cases.

Pushed by the Illinois Trial Lawyers’ Association, Public Act 97-1145 caps these fees at one-third of a plaintiff’s award and bars lawyers from petitioning the court for higher fees.

The new law, which was introduced earlier this month as Senate Floor Amendment No. 2 to House Bill 5151, took effect Friday.

* Tribune

The bill surfaced in the Senate on Jan. 2, tacked onto a measure that originally dealt with firearm ranges. A day later it passed the Senate mostly on Democratic votes. Over in the House, powerful Democratic Speaker Michael Madigan sponsored the bill. A few days later it went to the governor on a 67-46 vote, again with mostly Democratic support. Quinn signed the measure into law Jan. 18, disclosing his move on a Friday afternoon, when politicians often choose to bury controversial news.

The law eliminates the sliding scale that spelled out how much attorneys could charge for bringing medical malpractice cases. Previously, attorneys could collect one-third of an award up to $150,000, 25 percent for awards ranging from $150,000 to $1 million and 20 percent for awards of more than $1 million. Attorneys also could petition the court for even higher fees, a practice the new law eliminated.

The new system will see attorneys collecting a flat one-third rate on all awards. The Medical Society contends that means a patient who was awarded $1 million would now pay $333,333 in attorney’s fees as opposed to $262,500 under the old standards — the first $150,000 of the award at the one-third rate and the rest at the 25 percent rate.

“This (law) goes against the purpose for which money is awarded to an injured patient,” said Dr. William N. Werner, Illinois medical society president. “Awards are intended to offset patients’ losses, not pad the pockets of their attorneys.”

But Gregory Shevlin, president of the state’s trial lawyers association, said clients can hire attorneys for less than the maximum fee amount. Shevlin said clients could end up saving money under the new limits, because attorneys no longer will be able to petition the court for fees beyond what is set in law.

* I wrote about the “why” a few weeks ago

Last year when the state hiked the cigarette tax by almost a dollar a pack, the tobacco industry cut a deal to pass a bill that limited appeal bonds.

Right now, state law mandates that bonds be posted equal to 1 1/2 times a judgment on certain cases before the ruling can be appealed. That resulted in a required $12 billion appeal bond years ago when Philip Morris lost a case involving Marlboro Lights. The appeal bond was lowered after negotiations, but the company has been fighting ever since to get something into law.

The House passed a bill last year, but Senate President Cullerton, a visceral anti-tobacco legislator, bottled it up. It passed last week after the trial lawyers were given a neat little plumb that guaranteed them higher contingency fees on big medical malpractice cases.

* In other news

A measure that intends to put an end to forum shopping has been introduced in the Illinois General Assembly.

House Bill 138 would amend the Illinois Code of Civil Procedure to provide for the dismissal of lawsuits for lack of proper venue if the defendants are not Illinois residents and the cause of action didn’t occur in the state.

Current law allows plaintiffs to bring suits in any county if the defendants are nonresidents.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Jil Tracy, R-Quincy, said this year will mark at least her third attempt at pushing a venue reform measure.

The Illinois Civil Justice League (ICJL) has supported her legislation in previous years and the Illinois Trial Lawyers’ Association (ILTA) has opposed it.

- Posted by Rich Miller        


1 Comment
  1. - Irish - Wednesday, Jan 30, 13 @ 10:44 am:

    Action in lame duck,
    A measure to get Legislators more votes from Hispanic voters.
    And a law passed by a group of mostly lawyers led by lawyers to benefit lawyers.

    See, they can get things done!


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