Joint meeting of House, Senate panels considers tighter civil lawsuit rules
Advocates for tightening lawsuit rules in Illinois got their say in a rare forum Tuesday. That’s probably as far as they’re going.
Several measures attempting to change where civil trials are held and who can testify in them were discussed in a rare joint committee meeting of two House and Senate judiciary committees.
Sen. A.J. Wilhelmi, D-Joliet, said the chances of either Senate Bill 1963 or 1965 getting a vote by the full legislature is unlikely this spring.
“From my perspective, there isn’t the support to move these bills,” said Wilhelmi, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
One of the measures, Senate Bill 1963, would dramatically change how a trial’s location is chosen. Currently, if the party being sued does not live in the state, the trial can take place in any county in Illinois.
Because there’s such flexibility, lawyers from across the nation file civil suits in counties that are considered plaintiff-friendly, critics say. That creates a hidden tax for Illinoisans because lawsuits drive up the price of products and services from businesses, a reform advocate argued.
“They are filing lawsuits to have them heard in places like Cook County and Madison County,” said Travis Akin, the executive director of Illinois Lawsuit Abuse Watch. “They are essentially shopping for the right venue, and it costs us all.”
SB 1963 would limit a trial’s location to counties where the reason, at least in part, for the suit took place.
But a top trial lawyer contends that would eliminate the ability to find a venue that is equally fair to both plaintiff and defendant.
“(SB 1963) is trying to set where trials should be filed before injury even occurs,” said Philip Corboy, president of the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association.
Senate Bill 1965, which the trial lawyers also oppose, would set qualifications for who can be considered an expert witness.
Greg Amundsen, a partner in the law firm Smith and Amundsen, wants a judge to determine who is an expert because “a judge is legally trained to determine whether there is reliability and relevance in the information.”
Corboy says the examination and cross-examination that goes on in a trial prevents the use of improper testimony.
Wilhelmi said even though neither idea is moving ahead in the legislature right now, airing the viewpoints alone was an accomplishment.
Jarad Perry, a junior political science student at the University of Illinois at Springfield who volunteers with Akin’s group, agrees.
"Even if it is not going anywhere now, the public is aware of the problem," Perry said.