Articles Posted in Legislation

In late October, Senate Republicans voted to overturn a rule that would prevent banks and big financial institutions from blocking class action lawsuits. The rule, set to go into effect in 2019, would’ve forced banks and credit card companies to do away with arbitration clauses embedded in lengthy agreements between a financial institution and the consumer.

Wells Fargo Scandal: Why Class Actions Are Necessary

With last year’s Wells Fargo scandal still fresh in Americans’ minds, overturning the block on class action lawsuits is unwelcome news. Wells Fargo employees were discovered to have opened over 3.5 million fake accounts and to have enrolled consumers in their auto bill-pay program without their consent. Close to 200,000 customers also paid fines on these fake accounts.  As part of a class action settlement, Wells Fargo must pay $142,000,000 back to consumers whose names were used to open fake bank and credit card accounts.

Recently, tort reform became a topic of discussion in Springfield. Our attorneys believe this is an especially important topic because these lawsuits give injured victims of negligence access to the courts and allow plaintiffs to recover compensation and obtain justice for wrongdoing committed against them. When we bring lawsuits against negligent parties, we use the legal system as a vehicle of change to make our communities a safer place. When verdicts are granted in favor of the plaintiffs, not only are negligent parties held accountable, but the legal examples set by medical malpractice and personal injury lawsuits deter other potential negligent parties from committing wrongs and placing innocent parties in harm’s way in the future.

Some look to deny victims access to the courts by calling for tort reform. If we reform the tort system by placing a limit on jury awards, the legal system is thereby weakened and can no longer strongly deter tortfeasors as it has in the past. When there are caps, negligent parties are aware of the maximum they can be punished, regardless of how horrendous the act. The legal system we have in place currently operates successfully in a way to not only provide retribution for victims and their families but to punish negligent parties and prevent future negligence. The Illinois legislature is once again revisiting the issue of tort reform after the Illinois Supreme Court ruled in 2010 that limits on damages awarded to victims of medical negligence are unconstitutional.

A recent article by The Herald-News discusses how Illinois lawmakers recently debated whether to make changes to the state’s tort laws. Plaintiffs in medical malpractice and wrongful death cases have spoken out saying that limits should not be placed on jury awards after Illinois’s new governor, Bruce Rauner, announced tort reform was a priority, claiming that it is pro-business and a way to save employers money. What supporters of tort reform fail to consider is the well-being of those who suffer at the hands of negligent parties. According to this article, over 4,000 deaths in Illinois have been linked to preventable medical errors.
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Our Chicago injury attorneys advocate for those who have been hurt on and off of the work site. We fervently work for victims of accidents so that they can obtain fair and just compensation for their personal injuries. However, it looks as though changes in Illinois law could be underway, and our firm also believes in keeping abreast of the most recent laws and proposals, and keeping readers like you in the know as well.

Recent proposed Illinois legislation is noteworthy to consider for the consequences it may pose for workers who are injured in non-work related accidents. According to a current news article by the Insurance Journal, Illinois legislators will be considering legislation this spring that could eradicate workers’ compensation for non-work related accidents.

Senator Kyle McCarter, a Republican from Lebanon, introduced Senate Bill 2622, which would exempt an employer from paying for injuries if the worker is not traveling specifically for work purposes. The senator rationalizes the proposed bill that if an employer is not responsible for an accident that he should not have to pay.

Have you ever been at a red light and seen the person in the car next to you texting, oblivious to their surroundings and when the light turns green, only to then slam on the gas and try to simultaneously continue their text message and drive? You probably recognize how dangerous these distracted drivers are, and the risks their negligence poses to you and other drivers on the road you share. What makes matters worse, is that we as a community are constantly being told how dangerous these activities are, but we have not seen a decrease in distracted driving related accidents. Most of these people are aware that simultaneous cell phone use and driving creates a serious risk to themselves and those around them, but as our Chicago lawyers know, many proceed to act in this negligent manner anyway.

There are alarming statistics regarding the serious correlation between distracted driving and motor vehicle accidents. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration defines distracted driving as any activity that could divert a person’s attention from the main task of driving. Some examples of distractions include texting, using a cell phone, eating and drinking, doing hair and makeup, or adjusting music. However, it is noteworthy that text messaging is the worst and most dangerous distraction because it requires visual, manual, and cognitive attention from the driver. For a visual example, sending or receiving a text takes the driver’s eyes away from the road for approximately 4.6 seconds, which is the equivalent of driving the length of a football field at 55 mph. Nationally, the number of people killed in distracted driving crashes was 3,328 in 2012, and an estimated 421,000 people were injured in crashes due to a distracted driver. According to the Illinois State Police, distracted driving is also extremely costly and has an economic impact of $40 billion per year. Using your cell phone while driving increases the chance of an accident by 400%.

Due to a large number in distraction related accidents, a new distracted driver law will go into effect in Illinois on January 1st of the New Year. Under this new law, drivers will not be allowed to use a handheld cellphone for calls or texting while their vehicle is in use. Fines will substantially increase for those caught using their cellphones while driving.

Our truck accident lawyers learned that as of January 1st, three new pieces of Illinois legislation attempt to make our roads safer by prohibiting cell phone use for truckers, prohibiting cell phone use in construction zones, and allowing motorists involved in crashes to more easily move their cars to safety reports Prior to this new legislation, Illinois law prohibited texting while driving for all vehicles, but cell phones were permitted. Three new pieces of legislation supported by the Illinois Department of Transportation have now changed this old law. House Bill 5101 prohibits texting or using hand held cell phones while driving a truck.

Senate Bill 2488 prohibits cell phone use in construction or maintenance speed zones regardless of the speed limit. Truckers are still allowed to use cell phones in hands free mode, which includes the use of a headset or cell phones that can be used with single button activation. Before the new laws, the speed limit in a construction zone had to be lower than the posted speed limit and voice-activated cell phone use was permitted. That is no longer the case because of Senate Bill 2488. The Illinois Transportation Secretary stated that, “people are tragically injured and killed in work zones and by commercial motor vehicles due to distracted driving. Cell phone distractions have been proven to be as dangerous as drinking and driving.”

Finally, Senate Bill 3409 permits the driver of a car involved in an accident that causes damage to the car to move the car off the highway to the nearest safe location. The locations available to the driver are the exit ramp shoulder, a frontage road, the nearest suitable cross street, or other locations that will not obstruct traffic. The previous law involving moving a car after a crash required motorists to move their cars without obstruction traffic. This new law makes it easier and safer for people involved in car accidents to move their cars to safety without violating any laws. The Illinois Transportation Secretary explained that this law was necessary because “[t]he decisions made immediately following a crash are critical. This law will reduce the chances of further injury and secondary crashes by allowing able vehicles to clear the roadway following a crash.”

An Illinois bill that could save student lives is awaiting Governor Quinn’s signature. The bill was prompted after the death of a Chicago seventh grade student who died after suffering an allergic food reaction during a classroom party. The bill, that passed the Illinois legislature, allows school nurses to administer life-saving epinephrine injections even if the student has not been known to have been diagnosed with an allergy. Our Chicago wrongful death lawyers are happy to see this bill and hope that it is signed quickly. With young children’s current high rate of allergies, epinephrine injections could truly be lifesaving.

The thirteen year-old seventh grade student passed away of anaphylaxis in December after eating takeout food that was cooked in peanut oil at a school in the Albany Park neighborhood of Chicago. Anaphylaxis is a severe, whole-body allergic reaction to a chemical that has become an allergen. After being exposed to a substance that is an allergen, the person’s immune system becomes sensitized to it. On a later exposure to that allergen, an allergic reaction may occur. This reaction happens quickly after the exposure, is severe, and involves the whole body. An injection of epinephrine, which is a hormone, can counter severe allergic reactions by opening constricting breathing tubes, which improves blood circulation and reduces swelling.
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News is similar around this time each year as federal representatives debate budget proposals to guide the government in the upcoming year. The consequences of those debates-and the ultimate passed budget-have far-reaching ramifications for Illinois injury victims. Consequently, it is crucial for a worthwhile Chicago personal injury attorney to pay close attention to that budgetary process. Needed advocacy can then be provided in support of resolutions and alterations to the budget which respect the rights of injury victims throughout the state.

Injury victims have unfortunately been left in the cold in a recent proposal that is now working its way through the legislative process. The Consumer Voices reports that this week the U.S. House of Representatives passed the FY 2012 Budget Resolution. Unfortunately, the proposed budget takes a hatchet to all safeguards that have been carefully put into place to ensure there are less negligence victims, at nursing homes, hospitals, and elsewhere.

Illinois personal injury victims would suffer needlessly by passage of this proposal.

For example, the bill seeks to drastically cut the already minimal safety net created for those individuals who struggle every day to pay for the rising cost of their health care. On top of that, this legislative proposal would limit the total number of care workers, like nurses, who ensure that common medical errors and negligent acts are avoided. The development of bed sores, dehydration, and malnutrition, and many other preventable complications will likely strike more often, because there will be less trained personnel working to eliminate them. Even before these possible budget cuts there existed a crisis situation involving medical errors.

In sum, this proposal ignores the needs of negligence victims, including those at nursing homes and medical patients. By placing these vulnerable community members at the bottom of the priority list, it represents a large step backward. Years of bipartisan compromise and careful progress on these issues would be swept away with its passage.
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Our Chicago medical malpractice lawyers were happy to read that the Illinois House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a bill mandating that health care workers in Illinois would permanently lose their licenses if convicted of a sex crime or forcible felony. The bill would require health care workers in Illinois, including physicians, with charges pending to have chaperones with them if they keep treating Illinois physicians before their trials. The physicians at question would need to notify all of their patients in writing about any pending criminal allegations. Further, no individual whose name appears on a sex offender registry would be eligible for a medical license. Next up, the bill faces the Illinois Senate. Sponsoring representatives believe the bill will easily pass.

While our Chicago injury lawyers are happy to see this legislation make ground and realize the many hospital and future hospital patients this bill will likely help, we cannot help but wonder about those innocent hospital patients and nursing home patients who could have been protected by this bill a long time ago. For example, in May 2008 four hospital employees were charged with failing to report sexual assault after a stroke patient was sexually assaulted. The hospital did not inform the authorities nor did they take any action; the entire medical malpractice would have been forgotten if a hospital employee had not later reported the assault to the police.
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Yesterday we discussed the testimony provided by advocates for medical malpractice victims at last week’s hearing on the bill known as House Resolution 5 (H.R. 5). We continue that discussion with additional overview of the analysis outlined in the Legal Times Blog.

We previously mentioned the advocacy of one member of the subcommittee in question, Representative Harry Waxman. Besides noting the dubious connection between tort reform and medical malpractice premium decreases, Representative Waxman also emphasized how the federal government should leave these tort law decisions to the states.

He explained quite eloquently that “regulation of insurance and the practice of medicine are quintessential state issues-they always have been. H.R. 5 would take away that or pre-empt that authority and that prerogative…But as this legislation makes clear, that guiding philosophy evaporates when it comes to protecting the interests of the insurance industry. No wonder the author of this legislation did not cite the 10th Amendment-the one that reserves power to the states-as the constitutional basis for its introduction.”

The sad reality is that far too many individuals, lawmakers, and policy advocates are willing to sacrifice basic principles of federal power in an effort to enact national rules being supported by insurance companies. The old political maneuvering games played by those with inside influence and money are clearly at work when it comes to this issue.

Instead of caving to the demands of big interests, it is important to re-focus the debate back to increasing patient safety. As representative John Dingell pointed out, much potential success exists in programs that make funds available for innovative patient safety programs. In that way, the real problem-the frequency of medical malpractice-is addressed. Misguided emphasis on the effects of those errors-the medical malpractice lawsuits-is nothing more than a red herring.
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CBS Local is reporting that the Illinois Department of Human Services (“DHS”) is finally moving residents from Graywood Foundation, a state-licensed group home in Charleston, Illinois, and working towards shutting down the facility. As Rich Miller of Capitol Fax says, this action is too late for the victims of Graywood. DHS has awarded this facility nearly $30 million in taxpayer dollars since 2001, despite allegations of Illinois wrongful death at the group home.

Dating back to 2003, state records revealed that there was 33 incidents of Graywood staff members abusing residential home residents. In one tragic instance, a forty-two year old Joliet man suffered a fatal beating. He was referred to as a gentle giant and functioned at the level of a 6 year-old. He was punched, kicked, and struck with a frying pan at his group home for reportedly taking a cookie. Two staff members at the group home have been charged in the brutal beating that led to the Illinois wrongful death. The other cases include sexual abuse, physical battery, and alleged coercion of residents to attack each other. In 2008, a resident was murdered by staff. The murder prompted an internal memo from the DHS Inspector General, warning that Graywood residents were at risk amid an increase of serious allegations of abuse and neglect.

DHS has revoked Graywood’s contract and is in the process of shutting down the home. A state lawmaker is calling for a criminal investigation into the facility and is working on legislation to protect residents of these facilities. Tragically, how many vulnerable Illinois citizens have been hurt while waiting for the government to step up and protect our state’s most vulnerable?

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