The Illinois General Assembly recently voted to override departing Gov. Bruce Rauner’s earlier veto of a bill that raised caps on negligence awards paid out by the state through the Court of Claims system. The legislation, which lifts the maximum award on Court of Claims cases from $100,000.00 to $2 million, had been passed largely in response to the Legionnaires’ disease crisis at the Illinois Veterans’ Home in Quincy, IL.
Legionnaires’ Disease Crisis and the Court of Claims
The Court of Claims has jurisdiction over claims for damages brought against the state of Illinois, including twelve cases that were filed by the families of residents who died from outbreaks of Legionnaires’ disease at the state-run nursing home facility.
The maximum award for Court of Claims cases has historically been capped at $100,000.00. The Illinois Trial Lawyers Association, a plaintiff lawyer advocacy group, noted that the cap, which was set in 1971, was the lowest in the United States.
Senate Bill 2481, known as the Commitment to Justice Act, was originally introduced by Sen. Michael Hastings of Tinley Park and passed by both houses of the General Assembly. It raised the maximum award to $2 million, though the bill left language in place exempting cases involving a state-owned vehicle from that limit. Additionally, it allowed the court to adjust the maximum award to reflect increases in the Consumer Price Index determined by the United States Department of Labor.
The changes mandated by the legislation specifically applied to claims filed after July 1, 2015, the date of the first known Legionnaires’ disease outbreak at the Illinois Veterans’ Home. Four such outbreaks have occurred at the facility since that time.
On Aug. 24, 2018, Gov. Rauner vetoed the legislation. In his message to lawmakers, he recommended setting the award maximum at $300,000.00 and wrote that raising the cap on damages to $2 million is “effectively ignoring the impact of vastly expanded future litigation on the fiscal position of the state and its taxpayers.”
Rauner Overridden During Veto Session
Last month, Rauner lost his bid for reelection to JB Pritzker. And during its annual November veto session, the General Assembly successfully overrode his veto of the Court of Claims legislation.
The newly passed law applies retroactively to the claims filed by the families of those killed by Legionnaires’ disease at the Illinois Veterans’ Home. They are now eligible to receive settlements of as much as $2 million should their claims prevail. Previously, any settlements would have been limited to a maximum amount of $100,000.00.
Rauner was quick to criticize the General Assembly’s override of his earlier veto.
“This is going to be a massive invitation for lawsuits,” he told reporters after the conclusion of the veto session. “Our taxpayers could be on the hook for many millions, hundreds of millions of dollars.”
Supporters of the bill, however, have dismissed these concerns, arguing that raising the Court of Claims cap does not guarantee that every claim against the state will win or that the maximum amount will be awarded.
Legionnaires’ Disease Litigation
If you or a loved one have contracted Legionnaires’ disease, please contact the Illinois personal injury attorneys at GWC Law to schedule a zero-cost, zero-obligation consultation.
With over $2 billion recovered for our clients and offices throughout the state, GWC is one of Illinois’ leading Personal Injury and Workers’ Compensation law firms.