Lawmakers Denounced for Pushing Punitive Damages in Last-Minute Amendment

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Illinois Businesses Brace for Increased Costs and Diminished Appeal as Trial Bar Pushes for Punitive Damages in Wrongful Death Cases

This week, Illinois General Assembly Assistant Majority Leader Jay Hoffman filed a last-minute amendment to Illinois House Bill 219, which aims to allow recovery of punitive damages in wrongful death cases.

“This amendment is a clear attempt by the trial bar to line their pockets at the expense of Illinois families,” American Tort Reform Association President Tiger Joyce said. “This ill-conceived amendment not only threatens to escalate costs but will further exacerbate Illinois’s reputation as a Judicial Hellhole®. We urge Illinois’s government leaders to reject this measure and protect the state’s economic vitality.”

H.B. 219, initially titled the Uniform Interstate Depositions and Discovery Act, is essentially a shell bill that has become a vehicle for the proposed amendments. Amendment 1 would allow punitive damages to be recovered in wrongful death cases, except in cases against the state or a state employee acting in the person’s official capacity. Amendment 2 would further carve out healing art malpractice or legal malpractice.

“This amendment is arbitrary and imbalanced,” Joyce said. “It exempts state government, local government, and medical malpractice cases. If this amendment was truly about punishing defendants for certain behavior and protecting victims, then why would they create exemptions? The answer is simple: this amendment is nothing more than a power grab by the trial bar.”

Just two years ago, the trial bar snuck a pre-judgment interest rate amendment through the back door in the middle of the night during a lame duck session. This amendment, filed at the eleventh hour, echoes the trial bar’s past efforts to push through unfavorable legislation.

“This is, unfortunately, the exact sort of tactic we’ve come to expect from the Illinois trial bar and is a page straight from the trial lawyers’ playbook,” Joyce said.

The bill is moving quickly through the legislative process and, in a matter of days, has passed the House and now is awaiting committee assignments in the Senate. Leader Hoffman has said the bill is a top priority of the trial lawyers.

Cook County’s status as a perennial Judicial Hellhole®, currently ranked fifth-worst in the nation by the American Tort Reform Foundation, underscores the urgent need for fair and balanced legislation.

“Rather than burdening Illinois businesses with punitive damages, lawmakers should focus on creating an environment that promotes growth and prosperity,” Joyce said. “This amendment threatens to exacerbate the challenges faced by businesses and further dampen Illinois’ competitiveness.”

Recent data revealed that an average Illinois family of four pays more than $6,750 each year in a “tort tax” due to excessive tort costs. These same costs also result in a loss of more than 200,000 jobs per year in the state.

“Illinois leaders must consider the detrimental consequences of the proposed amendment and prioritize the state’s economic well-being,” Joyce said. “This measure will only lead to increased costs and hinder job creation. We urge you to instead foster an environment that encourages entrepreneurship and attracts job creators to the state.”

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