The following commentary by ITLA President Antonio M. Romanucci was published on the Daily Herald’s website December 18, 2019.
Reform, workers comp laws can co-exist
Like Steve Rauschenberger, Illinois’ trial lawyers support a robust manufacturing sector in our state. Where we vehemently disagree with the president of the Technology and Manufacturing Association (Commentary: Reform needed to rebuild Illinois manufacturing community, Dec. 10, 2019) is in his belief there is a necessary tradeoff between economic growth and ensuring workers’ health and safety.
Rauschenberger relies on flashy catch phrases and long-debunked, decades-old talking points to criticize our civil justice and workers’ compensation systems. But the truth is that Illinois courts effectively filter out cases lacking merit – dismissing thousands before they reach the trial stage.
Claims of lawsuits over-running the state are false. The number of civil cases filed statewide has dropped 47 percent since 2010. In Cook County, those numbers declined 55 percent from 2010 to 2017. And, importantly, many of those cases are businesses suing other businesses or individuals, not individuals suing companies.
The 7th Amendment protects the constitutional rights of citizens to hold those who harm them responsible, whether the wrongdoer is another person or a wealthy, powerful corporation. The courts and a jury of our peers are a crucial means for enhancing workplace and consumer product safety and, ultimately, effecting positive change that saves lives.
As for workers’ compensation, the process was created more than a century ago when employers and workers came together to strike a “grand bargain.” Employers agreed to compensate injured workers for medical expenses and lost wages, while workers gave up their right to take employers to court over job-related injuries.
When Illinois lawmakers overhauled the workers’ comp law in 2011, injured workers forfeited longstanding rights in exchange for greater transparency by insurance companies. Insurance companies failed to hold up their end of the bargain, however, reaping more than $2 billion in profits since while injured workers saw their benefits drastically cut.
While their profits have never been better, Insurance companies would still have us believe that workers’ comp is too generous. In fact, it’s all that’s standing between injured men and women – some so badly hurt they may never work again – and a life of poverty, dependent upon taxpayers for their sustenance. Rauschenberger should join our call for true reform as insurers are taking advantage of both workers and employers.
The real “judicial hellhole” that insurance companies and behemoth corporations desire is a court system that strips away the hard-won rights of ordinary citizens – rights that generations of Americans have died on battlefields across the world to protect – and precludes any chance for them to receive justice.
We can have a vibrant, diverse economy without gutting workplace, consumer and environmental protections. In a time of worsening inequality, Illinoisans do not want race-to-the-bottom polices that leave them poorer and more vulnerable, while corporate CEOs become wealthier and more powerful.
ANTONIO M. ROMANUCCI is the president of the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association, a statewide organization whose members represent injured consumers and workers. Trial lawyers fight to ensure all citizens get equal footing in the courtroom, even when taking on the most powerful interests. To contact ITLA, please call (800) 252-8501.