* The Tribune’s headline on this story was brutal: “Gov. Bruce Rauner vetoes larger damages for veterans who died from Legionnaire’s at Quincy veterans home”…
Gov. Bruce Rauner on Friday vetoed legislation that would have increased from $100,000 to $2 million the maximum damage award families of veterans who died due to Legionnaire’s disease at the Illinois Veterans Home in Quincy could have sought from the state.
Rauner has come under fire over his administration’s handling of repeated annual outbreaks at the home that began in 2015 with the deaths of a dozen people and illnesses to scores more. Since then, at least two more deaths have been associated with the disease.
At least a dozen lawsuits have been filed since the initial outbreak, claiming negligence by the state. The Republican governor’s Democratic challenger, J.B. Pritzker, has accused Rauner of “fatal mismanagement” at the veterans home, which is now undergoing a reconstruction.
In its legal filings, the state has denied any negligence and Rauner has said the state has followed all recommendations of federal experts at the Quincy home. In April, Rauner’s veterans affairs director resigned.
* The Sun-Times’ headline was equally tough (”Gov. Bruce Rauner vetoes larger damages for Legionnaire’s victims”), but the story was a bit more accurate…
Gov. Bruce Rauner has vetoed legislation that would have boosted the maximum damage awards to people who sue the state, including survivors of veterans who died of Legionnaires’ disease at the Illinois Veterans’ Home in downstate Quincy.
This bill wasn’t just about Quincy. The bill covered just about everybody who sued the state. So, I think the governor was right that a $2 million cap was a bit much. The cap was originally set at $100,000 in 1971, which works out to about $600,000 in today’s money. Rauner used his AV to change the cap to $300,000. So, where the GA high-balled, he low-balled.
From the outset, the legislation put Rauner in a political trick box. Embracing the status quo, as Rauner did Friday, carried the risk of making the governor seem unsympathetic to the plight of the veterans’ families at Quincy. Accepting new limits could have been viewed as a tacit acknowledgment the state bungled its response to the outbreaks, something Rauner has never admitted.
Legislators were in the same trick box. It wasn’t easy voting against the bill because of the deceased veterans angle.
* JB Pritzker took full advantage in his own press release…
“I’m disgusted by Bruce Rauner’s callous dismissal of Veteran families in this veto,” said JB Pritzker. “These families lost loved ones because of Rauner’s fatal mismanagement of the Veterans’ home in Quincy. No amount of money will ever bring back a life taken too soon or soothe a family’s grief, but Rauner had the indecency to lower the reparations for those who have paid the ultimate price. It is unconscionable and a disgrace to our fallen heroes. I hope the legislature overrides this bipartisan, veto-proof bill that this failed governor refused to sign into law.”
* From the governor’s veto message…
When citizens are inadvertently harmed by the State of Illinois or State employees performing their duties, they are granted statutory recourse to address those harms through the Illinois Court of Claims. There are approximately eight thousand cases filed against the State of Illinois each year, two hundred of which are for torts. Currently, these tort claims are subject to a cap of $100,000.
I recognize that the current law is outdated and in need of adjustment. However, this adjustment should reflect regional and national averages in order to properly compensate those who, once properly adjudicated, were found harmed by the State of Illinois.
This legislation raises the cap on awards from $100,000 to $2,000,000, effectively ignoring the impact of vastly expanded future litigation on the fiscal position of the State and its taxpayers.
The increase stands out when compared to other large states across America. Among the largest states in the nation, the cap averages about $350,000 for individual claims. As proposed, SB 2481 would make Illinois an extreme outlier when compared to our surrounding states. Wisconsin and Michigan are almost entirely immune from tort liability. Kentucky caps claims at $250,000; Indiana at $700,000 and Missouri at $300,000. Iowa has essentially no cap on tort claims. Further, the increase proposed far outpaces what would be a reasonable increase based on growth statistics available from the United States Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics. Finally, as proposed, this legislation could invite frivolous lawsuits and expose taxpayers to hundreds of millions of dollars of potential damages each year without adequate study or justification.
…Adding… And here comes ITLA, right on cue…
Following the Governor’s amendatory veto of a measure that would have allowed access to justice for all families whose loved ones are injured or die while under the care of the state, Illinois Trial Lawyers Association President Mark D. Prince issued the following statement:
“Senate Bill 2481 is meant to ensure access to adequate and fair compensation for victims and their families when the state is responsible for their injuries or death. Despite the support of strong, bi-partisan majorities in the House and Senate, the Governor’s amendatory veto creates yet another artificial legislative hurdle for our veterans and their families, and put vulnerable children, the elderly, and other future victims that are injured or killed under the state’s care into peril.”