Tuesday, August 30, 2005

House Guest - Ed Murnane

In the spirit of a free exchange of ideas, I am happy to welcome Ed Murnane, President of the Illinois Civil Justice League, as the inaugural Dome-cile House Guest. Ed was gracious enough to take the time to share his thoughts here and I appreciate the discourse.

I must admit that the harsh anti-business rhetoric expressed during the past few days (post-med-mal signing) is disturbing; nevertheless I welcome Rep. Fritchey’s invitation to post some thoughts and comments from the tort reform “establishment” in
Illinois. (I also must take the opportunity to commend Rep. Fritchey for providing his constituents – indeed all Illinoisans – with a chance to tell him when they think he’s gone way over the edge, or maybe done something good, too.)

But first a word about the business community in general, and Chambers of Commerce (U.S. and others) in particular.

How easy it is to target “big business.” How easy it is for some to forget that it is “big businesses,” many of them in Illinois, that provide jobs for thousands of Illinois working men and women. They provide tax revenues that support local schools and municipal services; they provide paychecks that are spent in local grocery stores and dry cleaners and churches.

And for those who are looking toward retirement, they provide investment opportunities through mutual funds and 401k programs and pensions that may yield healthy returns if – IF – the businesses can remain profitable.

So don’t be so quick to criticize “big business” or the members of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. All of us need them and we need them to be healthy.

A disturbing trend in Illinois is that the number of manufacturing jobs has been surpassed by the number of people working for government, as of 2002. According to the Illinois Department of Employment Security. In 2002, Illinois manufacturers employed 740,200 people compared to 863,000 government jobs. Who puts the money into the government to pay those salaries?

But more to the issue at hand: tort reform (even we “tort reformers” would prefer “civil justice reform” since only lawyers, law students and French pastry chefs know what a tort (or torte) is.

Contrary to what some of Rep. Fritchey’s closest allies may believe (and perhaps Rep. Fritchey himself?), the Illinois Civil Justice League is not about “big business.” Although we work closely with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Illinois Chamber of Commerce, we also work closely with not-for-profit organizations and local governments and health care providers (including individual doctors, as well as the Illinois State Medical Society and Illinois Hospital Association).

Local governments are strong supporters of civil justice reform because they are frequent targets of lawsuits – some/many might be considered frivolous – and the local governments would like to keep those costs down. They’re an easy target, unfortunately, because they CAN raise more money by increasing taxes, which several in the Chicago area have had to do to fulfill settlements or verdicts in personal injury cases.

Not-for-profit organizations are threatened by lawsuits, and thus by higher liability insurance costs, and so many of them have joined with us to try to reduce the costs and threat of needless litigation.

This is not a News Flash, but there are some in Illinois who did not like the medical liability reform bill signed last week by Governor Blagojevich. As a matter of fact, they included the governor himself (and Rep. Fritchey, as he has subtly indicated).

We hope the new law and the cap on damages helps cut the cost of medical liability in Illinois. There are as many state results in which “caps” have worked as those in which they have not, which is a frequent argument of the opponents of reform.

But one of the most convincing arguments we have seen in favor of the need for reform and reducing the number of lawsuits in Illinois – especially in Southern Illinois – was the result of an analysis the Illinois Civil Justice League did of EVERY medical malpractice suit filed in Madison and St. Clair Counties in 2000, 2001, 2002, and 2003. Our study of actual court records showed that more than half of the physicians in those two counties had been named in a medical malpractice suit (either individually or through their practice) during that four-year period.

And we also learned from the court records that more than 75% of those who were named were eventually dismissed from the suit and had no obligation to pay anything. Of course they had to pay legal fees, or their insurer did, and they had to take time away from patients to prepare and give depositions, and they had to live with the chilling effect of knowing that any kind of care they give a patient could possibly result in another costly lawsuit.

If the new law helps reduce the number of lawsuits, that will be a plus for patients and for doctors.

Here are three other civil justice reform proposals which make sense. They do not preclude anyone from filing a lawsuit; they do not limit what could be recovered; they should have the support of both sides of the civil justice reform issue.

Venue Reform: Lawsuits should be filed where they make sense, either where the incident happened, or where the plaintiff lives, or where the “wrong-doer” is located. They should not be allowed in a jurisdiction simply because the judges are friendly.

Consumer Fraud Act Jury Option: Illinois’ consumer fraud act should be amended to allow jury trials at the request of either plaintiff or defendant. All of us believe in the right to a trial by jury – don’t we?

Jury Service Reform: Citizens need to be encouraged to serve on juries. One way to do that is to compensate them more than the $15 to $20 per day they are paid in most counties – not enough for parking in some areas. Employers need to be encourage do allow employees to serve and there should be no job risk to the employee.

How could anyone in
Illinois oppose the concepts of fair treatment of jurors, trial by juries in consumer fraud cases, and no “forum shopping” for friendly judges?

Just watch.


At August 30, 2005 at 12:25 AM, Blogger ArchPundit said...

Thanks for your comments--one of my issues with venue shopping is--fine fix it, but how does that change that settlements are still different by venue. Within the State of Illinois, under the same law, shouldn't a similar incident produce a similar settlement/judgment?

Stopping venue shopping doesn't seem to solve that basic problem and while I understand that the argument is for comprehensive reform, I don't see where this is fixed.

At August 30, 2005 at 8:54 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a coup, Fritchey, gettting Murnane to blog again! His own blog has just four posts since last May; I'd begun to think he'd gone to ground again.

At August 30, 2005 at 8:55 AM, Blogger Rep. John Fritchey said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At August 30, 2005 at 8:58 AM, Blogger Rep. John Fritchey said...


I'm curious - do you think that passage of the med mal bill makes your proposed reforms easier to pass (because the dam has been broken), harder to pass (because many Dems need to get back into the fold), or has no impact?

At August 30, 2005 at 9:04 AM, Blogger Rep. John Fritchey said...

I would be remiss if I did not point out that at least conceptually, Ed's (and the ICJL's) suggestions fall within the umbrella of reasonableness. As is the case with most of what we do, however, the devil will be in the details.

Regardless of what somebody's viewpoint is on the subject, I think that it would be shortsighted for any legislator to lock themselves in on this issue on the front end without understanding the position of both sides and evaluating those positions. Sounds basic I know, but you'd be surprised.

At August 30, 2005 at 2:09 PM, Anonymous Ed Murnane said...

Rep. Fritchey, thanks for the "reasonableness" comment; we hope the details aren't too devilish.

Good question on the impact of the med-mal bill. Probably little or no impact, although I'd like to think the "reasonableness" argument will work on both sides of the aisle.

Yes, the med-mal did break a dam but that issue is so narrowly defined that it is unlikely to have much impact on other civil justice issues (unless we (ICJL, etc.) can continue to prove to Illinois voters that there are simply too many lawsuits in Illinois.

But as you point out, it was a chancy vote for some Democrats and they may feel they need to get back in the fold before the campaign dollars are divided up.

Having med-mal out of the way does take a contentious issue off the table and maybe there will be some room for discussion/negotiation on some of the other civil justice issues. We hope so and appreciate your comments and willingness to listen. Not all of your colleagues have demonstrated that.

At August 30, 2005 at 2:48 PM, Blogger Reform IL Child Support said...

I would suggest all who have questions about the fate of the medical malpractice law to contact Chief Justice Mary McMorrow, Illinois Supreme Court and she'll give an ear full on the legality of the new law and whether or not it violates the law.

As the Governor pointed out when he signed the bill, he's against it, his morals are against it and it takes the right away from the jury. Imagine a doctor damages your heart for life which causes you to be on life support for the rest of your life; not to mention living in the hospital for quite some time. Do you think that 1.5 million is restitution for pain and suffering.

Better yet,i'd like to see one of the doctors or hospital administrators who supported this bill experience the above. Again, is 1.5 million enough to compensate someone for the pain and suffering that they will experience until they die?

When a Governor or any other legislature takes a stance against a particular bill or believes that it violates their moral or ethical beliefs, why do what others want you to do.

How about "doing the right thing" and follow your morals, ethics and your heart.

On behalf of all who are suffering from a doctors or hospitals mistake; which I am positive that it is happening right now, it just happened and will happen again in within the next day, I hope the law is challenged in court and declared unconstitutional.

The the next time the Governor faces and ethical delima, he'll follow his moral, values, ethical principal and his heart and not allow others to reign on his principals.

At August 30, 2005 at 4:23 PM, Blogger Amy Allen said...


At September 3, 2005 at 1:30 AM, Blogger Willy Nilly said...

I am waiting to see my medical bills go down. I doubt they will because Doctors are like many Americans and Business people...unable to control their spending. The bill is warm and fuzzy, no ob's leaving IL, more Doctors in southern IL. In the end it will do little to lower medical costs, like taxes, once prices go up they do not go down.

Why not make you next crusade Doctor accountability, as it is easier to discipline a real estate agent than it is a Doctor. Oh yeah that's right Doctors write too many big checks for the Chamber to mess with.


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