The Illinois House Judiciary Committee approved legislation this week to change the state’s joint provisions and several liability provisions to allow damages to be assessed only to parties still remaining in the case.
Under current law, joint liability is at issue when a party is 25 percent or more at fault.
However, the bill in question, which has strong opposition from insurers, changes current law by allowing the defendants’ fault to be determined by the only parties still remaining in the case at the time of the final determination by the court.
The bill does not apply to the defendants or to third party defendants that have been dismissed for any reason, including settlement.
In the Senate, the measure has already won approval.
Greg LaCost, assistant vice president and regional manager for the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America, said he was not sure when the bill will be taken up by the full House. “We are expecting a tough fight,” he said, noting that both chambers are controlled by Democrats.
Mr. LaCost called the bill “fundamentally unfair” in that it will make it easier for trial lawyers to recover damages in personal injury and property damage lawsuit based on the size of the defendants’ pockets rather than level of responsibility in causing an injury.
“The point of the civil justice system is to hold those most at fault responsible for their proper share of the damages,” he said. “This legislation is about money, not justice,” he said.
Mr. LaCost added that the legislation encourages frivolous lawsuits and puts undue pressure on defendants, even though they may be innocent, to settle cases simply to avoid becoming one of a few parties splitting the cost of a judgment.
Bruce Kohen, a Chicago-based attorney who is president-elect of the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association, said the bill merely codifies what has been traditional practice in the state.
“The recent hypertechnical interpretation by some Illinois appellate courts has caused a split among the appellate and federal courts in Illinois,” he said. “This has created a need for this legislation.”
Mr. Kohen asserted that continuing to include settled and dismissed defendants on the verdict form only benefits wrongdoers at the cost of injured plaintiffs.