The following op-ed by ITLA President Larry R. Rogers, Jr. was published in the Rockford Register Star on April 11, 2021.
Senate bill will bring greater fairness to Illinois legal system
Justice delayed is justice denied – a tenet of our state and federal constitutions in criminal matters, but one that is no less deserving of application in serious civil cases. For a person who has suffered a life-altering injury, incurred medical expenses or, even worse, lost the family breadwinner due to another party’s malfeasance or negligence, delays in resolving their claims compound their injury and loss. For someone who must learn to live with being paralyzed or disabled, such delays often lead to financial hardship.
A compromise at the Illinois Capitol between the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association, Illinois Hospital Association, the Health Care Council of Illinois and other key stakeholders has produced an alternative prejudgment interest measure. Senate Bill 72 – currently sitting on Gov. JB Pritzker’s desk – eliminates the unfair financial benefits businesses reap from prioritizing profits over people and their pain. The measure incentivizes corporations and insurers to promptly and timely resolve meritorious claims instead of rewarding them for dragging cases out for years, a practice that disproportionately harms lower-income and minority plaintiffs who lack the financial means to withstand the loss of income when they cannot return to work.
Absent this improvement to Illinois law, defendants unjustly benefit from legal stalling tactics in two ways. First, they are allowed to invest and earn interest on money that otherwise would have been paid to the person they hurt. Second, the longer they can keep a case from settlement or trial, the more likely it is the injured person’s financial condition will deteriorate to the point of desperation, forcing them to settle for a fraction of what they might otherwise have received.
The fear-mongering assertions contained in an April 3 commentary by Dr. Timothy Durkee should be ignored. Durkee makes the false claims that doctors will flee Illinois if the measure becomes law, omitting the fact that 46 other states have some form of prejudgment interest. These scare tactics are often used to frighten Illinois lawmakers into restricting their constituents’ ability to have their day in the courts their tax dollars fund.
Opponents of SB 72 fail to mention the legislation entitles a plaintiff to collect prejudgment interest if their case goes to trial and a judge or jury finds in their favor. Because 97% of all cases settle, the practical reality is that prejudgment interest will be calculated only on a fraction of the remaining three percent of cases in which the plaintiff prevails. Finally, prejudgment interest will not be imposed on claims against municipalities or on settlements.
Senate Bill 72 incentivizes early resolution of claims by providing defendants and insurers a set off on the accrual of 6% interest from the date of filing of the complaint if they make a written offer within the first 12 months that the case is pending. If that offer is rejected, the set off will allow interest to accrue on the difference between the written offer and the ultimate judgment. This provision allows interest to accrue only on the difference between the written settlement offer and the judgment if the offer is rejected. It is intended to encourage defendants and insurers to make written settlement offers within 12 months of the filing of a case and is expected to incentivize early resolution of meritorious cases.
As a result of negotiations between all concerned parties, SB 72 has a broader base of support. We strongly encourage Gov. Pritzker to sign this legislation into law and bring fairness and equality to the Illinois legal system.
Larry R. Rogers, Jr. is the President of the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association