What a difference a year, and a pandemic, can make. This time last year, we were two months into a pandemic that changed our practices, our lives, and our world as we knew it. Hospitals were filled to capacity with sick patients, restaurants and non-essential businesses were closed by executive order, and jury trials, the driving force in our pursuit of justice for our clients, came to a resounding halt. While the challenges were like none other seen in the last 100 years, we are now beginning to see a light at the end of the tunnel. COVID-19 vaccines are now widely available, with a reported 50% of the population having been vaccinated. While the Illinois Department of Public Health has reported the astounding number of 22,739 COVID-19 fatalities and 1,380,261 COVID-19 cases in Illinois, as of May 28th, the seven-day statewide COVID-19 positivity rate of 1.9 percent, is one of the lowest recorded.
We have now even seen our first jury trial resume in what, is inarguably, the state’s most challenging venue to socially distance: Cook County’s Daley Center. Importantly, that trial resulted in a verdict for the plaintiff. [read more]
News & Notes
SCOTUS rules accident victims may sue Ford in state courts
In an a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court ruled “that the Ford Motor Co. can be sued in the state courts by people who were killed or seriously injured in accidents involving Ford vehicles.” The Court “rejected the Michigan-based company’s argument that its ties to Minnesota and Montana were too tenuous to allow it to be sued in those states by accident victims.” (AP – 3/25/21) Ford “argued that the state courts should have jurisdiction only if its conduct in those states had given rise to the claims.” In addition, Ford “contended that since it designed the vehicles in Michigan, manufactured them in Kentucky and Canada and originally sold them in other states that Montana and Minnesota courts should not decide the cases.” Writing for the Court, Justice Elena Kagan said, “We reject that argument. When a company like Ford serves a market for a product in a state and that product causes injury in the state to one of its residents, the state’s courts may entertain the resulting suit.” (Reuters – 3/25/21) [read more]
Fellow Trial Lawyers & Friends,
It was just over one year ago, on March 11, 2020, that life as we knew it came to a screeching halt! On that day, came the announcement that we were in the midst of a global COVID-19 pandemic, the likes of which had not been seen in the last 100 years. As a result of this crisis, our lives, our practices and our country as we knew them would be shut down for the foreseeable future. In the weeks and months to follow, we were introduced to 6-foot social distancing and mask wearing requirements, the cancellation of public and private gatherings, and the frequent use of a gubernatorial emergency power known as the Executive Order.
Simultaneously, our practices, and more importantly our clients’ claims, were ravaged not just by the impact of the pandemic on their lives, but by insurers, corporate defendants and hospitals. The risk managers and insurance adjusters took advantage of the pandemic by hiding behind the masks and under the capes of the heroes delivering care to justify stopping settlement negotiations on meritorious cases, refusing to proceed with discovery, and pushing our governor to extend immunity protections through Executive Orders without notice or warning. While the world was blindsided by the pandemic, our clients experienced a double whammy with their wrongfully caused injuries increasing their risk of further injury and death from COVID-19 and their claims for justice being under siege. [read more]
News & Notes
Battle Over Rideshare Worker Classification Continues: New York Supreme Court Holds Uber Drivers Are Employees, Entitled to Unemployment Insurance
The New York Supreme Court has “found Uber to be liable for unemployment insurance contributions with respect to drivers at issue.” In Matter of Lowry, no. 530395, the Court held that facts existed to establish that “Uber controls the drivers’ access to their customers, calculates and collects the fares and sets the drivers’ rate of compensation […] provides a navigation system, tracks the drivers’ location on the app throughout the trip […] controls the vehicles [and] precludes certain driver behavior.” This case only applies to upstate New York, not New York City. (The National Law Review – 1/8/21)
Wealthy hospitals using lien laws to increase revenue
Numerous wealthy hospitals “have quietly used century-old hospital lien laws to increase revenue, often at the expense of low-income people…” [read more]
Illinois Legislative Update:
The following legislation of interest to ITLA members passed both chambers of the Illinois General Assembly in the final days of the 101st General Assembly and will go to the Governor for his signature.
HB 3360 Prejudgment Interest.
This bill entitles plaintiffs in personal injury and wrongful death cases to be awarded prejudgment interest, at a rate of 9%, from the date of injury through the date of judgment. For pending cases, the accrual of prejudgment interest will begin from the date the bill is signed into law. The bill will become effective if it is signed into law by the Governor. If signed, Defendants and insurers will no longer benefit from delaying resolution of our clients’ cases and where they take them to verdict and lose, they will also be liable for prejudgment interest on all elements of damages awarded by the jury.
HB 4276 extends the COVID presumption for Occupational Disease claims and cases to diagnoses through June 30, 2021.
The bill also extends Public Employee Disability (PEDA) benefits for COVID diagnoses through June 30, 2021 and likewise extends the COVID presumption for Chicago police and Chicago firefighters. [read more]
Fellow Trial Lawyers and Friends,
The year 2020 has been, and continues to be, one for the record books. The last nine months have proven incredibly challenging for our clients, our members, and our practices. Despite ITLA’s exploration of a “way out” and a return to jury trials, the deadly impact of the Coronavirus has thwarted our efforts at every turn. We are not alone in this regard. While there have been sporadic jury trials here and there across the country with masks, shields and various forms of PPE, no major metropolitan area like Cook County and similar counties in the state and country, has been able to resume its trial schedule to pre-pandemic levels. Like Cook, most have had no trials at all – criminal or civil. As impactful on our practices as this standstill has been, if we take a step back and put it into context, the inability to return to jury trials thus far, as hard as it is to say, is the right call. The nature of the Coronavirus and the impact of a premature and unprepared return to the courtroom literally can be a matter of life and death. Sadly, you cannot help but question how we got here and whether it was avoidable. Let’s reflect on this year and see. [read more]
Fellow Trial Lawyers and Friends,
The year 2020 continues to be a year like no other. The Covid-19 pandemic has altered the way we conduct virtually every aspect of our daily lives. And . . . the end is not in sight.
In densely populated communities like Cook County, jury trials – the centerpiece of what we do as trial lawyers – have come to a halt, delaying justice for our clients. That justice delayed feels like justice denied. Yet, while we are anxious to get back to trying cases and seeking justice for our clients, we must not forget that Covid-19 has killed over 220,000 Americans. A premature and ill-prepared return to the courthouses could lead to more illness and death. The return to courthouses must be done carefully with an eye toward protecting the health and well-being of all who are a part of the system. [read more]
The year 2020 is shaping up to be one for the history books. Never in a million years could we have ever contemplated facing a time when our courthouses, our cases and much of our lives as we knew them, would come to a screeching halt. Who among us would have ever thought an international health crisis, a pandemic, would sweep the world. That a real life “Contagion,” as depicted in the 2011 film of the same name, would sicken the world, and our country would be so ill prepared that our citizens would need to shelter-in-place to “flatten” the curve and slow the spread of the disease. As if that were not enough, we were hit with a second whammy: the incredibly inhumane and unjust death of an unarmed black man, George Floyd, at the hands of police officers in Minnesota. This injustice was not new, but the in-humaneness of one of the officers kneeling on a handcuffed and prone Mr. Floyd’s neck while the officer’s hands were casually in his own pockets as Mr. Floyd’s life left his body. He looked completely comfortable and unconcerned that he was being recorded. His actions shocked the conscience of the world. And, in response, people in all 50 states and across the world, protested, marched and the powers-that-be committed to change. Not since the civil rights marches of the Dr. King era had we seen such a united call for justice. [read more]