The 11th hour legislation allowing unlimited punitive damage in wrongful death cases is set to pass today the state Senate and clear the Legislature.
The House passed the bill, HB 219 on a strict party-line vote on Tuesday, 75-40. Yesterday, the Senate Executive Committee also approved it on a strictly party-line basis.
Illinois Trial Lawyers Association is pushing for the measure. The measure allows punitive damages for wrongful death judgments. This is something the state does not allow. However, it exempts lawyers, hospitals, doctors, local and state governments, and state and federal governments. This leaves certain businesses at risk of potentially higher judgments.
Mark Denzler CEO of the Illinois Manufacturers’ Association said in an Interview: “This picks losers and winners.”
He gave the example of an drunk driver driving a car owned by a company who killed someone in an automobile accident. If the accident involved city-owned cars, punitive damages would not apply.
He said that many wrongful death claims are medical malpractice suits. These are excluded.
He said: “The retailer and manufacturer — We’re going allow punitive damage on you, but not for these other entities.”
It’s a “black eye” for the state to force through such a major change without giving opponents time to present their arguments and negotiate.
Denzler admitted, “I think our perception of the world has improved because of our financial situation.” Denzler said, “It’s two steps back and one step forward. . . It leaves a bad impression on the companies who are located in this area.”
He said that such actions could make those who are looking to expand in Illinois or relocate here think twice.
In a press release, the American Property Casualty Insurance Association stated that this measure would have “a detrimental impact” on Illinois civil defendants as well as consumers, businesses and health care providers. The bill’s passage would overturn the current law that prohibits insurers to pay punitive damage and make Illinois a state with a very high limit on allowable damages in wrongful death claims. Most states who allow punitive damages do so in conjunction with a ‘cap’, or other limitation, of both punitive as well as noneconomic damages. Illinois doesn’t.
Patrick Salvi II is the president of state trial lawyers. He disputes that.
According to the association, 34 states permit punitive damages for wrongful death judgments. In an interview, he stated that about 25 of these states do not limit the amount.
He said: “It’s not really logical that punitive damage is available only to injury victims, but not for those who have died (in these cases).”
He said that his firm Salvi Schostok & Pritchard handles many catastrophic injury lawsuits. A small minority of these involve punitive damages.
He said that in Cook County, only 18 cases of punitive damages exceeding $10,000 were awarded over the last decade.
He said the goal is not to inflate judgements, but to deter bad behaviour by companies, and to ensure that “people in boardrooms” do not act recklessly, and put lives in danger. He said that punitive damages were a powerful but unique tool of the law.
Salvi responded that “you’d need to ask a politician about it” when asked about how the bill could be moved without hearings or negotiations with opponents.
The question is, will Gov. J.B. Pritzker is expected to sign the bill. Denzler, Salvi and Denzler said that they did not know Pritzker’s position.
Pritzker was the one who cleared the legislature for the last major change in Illinois tort law – the imposition of prejudgment interests on personal injury damages 2021. This first bill was also introduced at the end session.
After the interest rate had been lowered, he signed.
This story has now been corrected. Gov. Pritzker has not spoken of being surprised by the punitive damages bill this year.