Madigan leaves trial lawyers with parting gift: up to 2 years of 9% interest

Madigan leaves trial lawyers with parting gift: up to 2 years of 9% interest

Lame duck lawmakers and the outgoing Illinois House speaker are trying to hand trial lawyers some extra cash. Gov. J.B. Pritzker is being urged to veto the bill.

In the final hours of Mike Madigan’s 36-year run as Illinois House speaker, he ushered through a bill to thank the trial lawyers who long supported him financially: House Bill 3360.

The bill passed at 3:08 a.m. Jan. 13 as the 101st Illinois General Assembly and Madigan were wrapping up. If signed by Gov. J.B. Pritzker, HB 3360 would allow trial lawyers to charge 9% interest in personal injury and wrongful death lawsuits for the time between when a defendant is notified of an injury and a judgment. Currently, the law allows plaintiffs to collect interest after the court issues a judgment.

The Illinois Trial Lawyers Association said the bill will prevent defendants from intentionally stalling or delaying cases. But critics of the bill said HB 3360 will drive doctors out of the state and penalize employers.

“Speaker Madigan is a known ally of the state’s trial bar,” American Tort Reform Association President Tiger Joyce said. “It seems he’s hoping to give this parting gift to his trial lawyer pals in his last days of leadership….”

Joyce’s group, the Illinois Civil Justice League and the Illinois Defense Counsel all encouraged Pritzker to veto the bill. There were 143 individuals and business groups also opposed to the bill, including the Illinois Chamber of Commerce, Illinois State Medical Society, the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce, Illinois Manufacturers’ Association, Illinois Trucking Association, National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies and other small business, insurance and health care groups.

“Additionally, the proposed 9% interest rate is grossly unfair and bears no relationship to current economic conditions,” Joyce said. “The bill represents nothing more than a shakedown of Illinois employers and a sop to personal injury lawyers.”

Madigan and the trial lawyers have a long history. Even after it was clear he was implicated in the ComEd bribery scandal, trial lawyers between September and December donated over $336,000 to the former speaker’s Friends of Michael J. Madigan and 13th Ward Democratic Organization committees.

HB 3360 started out as a change in the filing fees for foreclosures when the Illinois House passed it in April 2019. It resurfaced with an amendment in the 101st General Assembly’s lame duck session with the interest provision and passed just hours before the body was dissolved and replaced by the 102nd General Assembly.

Because 9% interest for up to two extra years – the time limit to file suit after an injury – is now part of the calculation, reform advocates said there is more pressure for defendants to settle.

“House Bill 3360 encourages the expansion of frivolous lawsuits and puts pressure on small businesses and other companies to settle lawsuits or face crushing financial consequences,” said Illinois Civil Justice League President John Pastuovic. “They are essentially being forced to choose between going to trial or settle to stop the interest meter from running. This is the last thing that business needs to contend with during the ongoing COVID crisis.”

Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse polling showed 80% of Illinoisans did not think state lawmakers were doing enough to fight lawsuit abuse. Their polling also showed 84% of Illinoisans thought health care workers should be protected from COVID-19 lawsuits.

“State lawmakers have failed to provide a long-term solution to protect small businesses or health care workers from frivolous and costly litigation related to COVID-19,” ATRA’s Joyce said. “Instead, they opted to wrongly prioritize policies which will only serve to benefit the state’s behemoth trial bar.”

The bill excludes municipalities from the prejudgment interest. It allows judges to seize part of the interest award and send it to any state agency or department.

“This would, in effect, turn Illinois judges into tax collectors and reveals that the purpose of the legislation is not to compensate a claimant for the time value of out-of-pocket losses, but simply to expand the state’s revenue,” Pastuovic stated.

The interest also applies to non-economic damages, such as pain and suffering, and future damages, such as ongoing medical expenses and lost earnings. Defense lawyers said it unfairly targets those being sued and penalizes them with mounting interest at a time when cases are stalled because the pandemic has closed courthouses.

The COVID-19 lawsuits have begun, and the added 9% interest tagged to the date of injury notice rather than the date the lawsuit was filed is expected to encourage even more lawsuits.

“It has already become apparent that some personal injury lawyers view individuals exposed to COVID-19 as a large new pool of plaintiffs, and view health care providers and businesses that aid in the response effort or provide essential services as defendants on which to cast blame,” Pastuovic said. “The first lawsuits targeting health care providers, employers, retailers and other businesses for COVID-related injuries have been filed. Many more are to come.”

And the meter will be running, if Pritzker signs HB 3360.

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