Articles Posted in Illinois Legislation

New modifications to the Illinois Wrongful Death Act now allow victims of a wrongful death to recover damages related to grief, sorrow, and mental suffering. This new addition applies to any Illinois wrongful death case that occurred after June 1, 2007.

Prior to the passing of the recent amendment, wrongful death victims were only allowed to recover for pecuniary losses such as the loss of decedent’s society. Under the loss of society claim the plaintiff may claim damages for the loss of the benefits from the decedent’s love, affection, care, attention, companionship, comfort, guidance and protection.

And while the new amendment allows plaintiffs to claim additional losses associated with their loved one’s wrongful death, there is now the requirment of proving and assessing the value of one’s grief, sorrow, and mental suffering following the death of a loved one.

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This month Illinois Governor Pat Quinn signed into law Senate Bill 84 (CTA §41 Notice Repeal), overturning a six-month requirement previously aligned with any Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) case. The rules under the new law are effective for any causes of action that accrue on or after June 1, 2009, such as Illinois bus accidents or Chicago train accidents.

Under the old requirement, any cause of action against the CTA had to submit a written notice to the CTA within six months of the relevant incident that advised the CTA of a potential cause of action. Failure to provide this notice barred the case from being brought. The formal notice required very specific facts regarding the action and essentially preserved the case for a later filing.

Under the newly passed law there is now no longer any required notice. However, a one year statute of limitations still stands for any and all CTA cases. This means that even though the required six-month notice has been repealed that an individual or party must still bring a cause of action against the CTA within one year after the incident occurred.

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“You want to know my philosophy?” Illinois’ new governor Patrick Quinn asked. “One day a peacock. The next day a feather duster.”

Given what the last 6 years has brought the state, most would agree that the new Illinois governor, its 41st, has the right attitude for the job. But Illinois’ political history is brimming with stories of corruption dating back decades. The time for reform is ripe.

Today I attended a meeting of the Illinois Reform Coalition as an observer and member of the Union League Club of Chicago’s Public Affairs Committee. The Illinois Reform Coalition is composed of some of Illinois leaders from the ranks of business, religion, associations, government and labor. By the enthusiasm displayed, these members are keenly aware of the need to break the mold of Illinois political corruption highlighted by the “sale to the highest bidder” the senate seat of President Obama.

However, there are many opinions on what path Illinois government should take and it’s unrealistic to expect a group to reach unanimity on such a delicate issue. Most of the discussion centered around campaign financing. Some argued that the implementation of a limit on contributions could not completely remove the taint of Illinois politics. Skeptics in the group argued that labor and others will oppose restrictions on campaign contributions, including those sitting in Springfield now.

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In a recent ruling, a Cook County Circuit Court judge held that the substantive defense of tort immunity does not apply to common carriers because that would represent a procedural limitation on the assertion of a right. Ortiz-Rivera v. Northeast Regional Commuter Railroad Corp., d/b/a Metra, No. 07 M5 2363.

The ruling by Judge Brosnahan is consistent with an Illinois Supreme Court ruling issued in April 2008 in Smith v. Waukegan Park District, 2008 WL 174664. In that case, the high court unanimously held that local governments are not immune from lawsuits alleging retaliatory discharge for the filing of a workers’ compensation claim.

Ortiz-Rivera involves a December 2006 incident involving a Cook County resident who was a passenger on a Metra southwest line train departing from Chicago’s Union Station. In moving from car to car, the plaintiff, after releasing the door, it closed quickly and hit her fingers resulting in a broken left small finger. On the date in question that train, along with several others, had been delayed due to a snow storm.

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Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan has submitted a motion to the Illinois Supreme Court to requesting the removal of Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich from office.

The motion challenges Blagojevich’s fitness to hold office and serve as Illinois’ governor following the governor’s recent arrest. The complaint filed under United States of America v. Blagojevich, et al. includes two counts accusing the governor and his chief of staff, John Harris, of dishonest dealings such as the “senate seat shakedown” and other crimes connected to the office of the governor.

While Blagojevich has yet to resign, his chief of staff, John Harris, stepped down today. The Harris resignation came in as the Illinois Attorney General was filing her motion with the Illinois Supreme Court to force the governor out of office. Many hope that Blagojevich will follow his chief of staff’s example.

There has been overwhelming cries from top to bottom in Illinois for Blagojevich to resign. But in spite of those many and influential loud voices, he remains in office currently. If and when he does resign, the governor’s duties would temporarily be taken over by Lt. Governor Patrick Quinn.

The current scandal calls to mind such disgraced politicians as Richard Nixon to the Elliot Spitzer. It may not be long before Blagojevich himself is the one standing at a podium bidding farewell to his office that has been thrown into chaos following the allegations of his wrongdoings.

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In Illinois, we have the option of early voting. I personally had a very smooth voting experience when I voted last week just a block from our Chicago office. I didn’t have to wait in a never-ending line of voters and the polling officials were both extremely helpful and well-informed. There were no hitches in casting my vote.

However, not all Americans have such an easy voting experience. For example, in Duval County, Florida, many early voters worry about whether their votes will really be counted. In the 2000 election, approximately 26,000 ballots were discarded in this predominantly Democratic area around Jacksonville. In that 2000 election, voting machine irregularities accounted for thousands of votes being discarded in predominantly black populated areas.

Then there are other states where voters have been stricken by the thousands from voting because of state rolls in supposed violation of federal law. Yet further review of the records of these stricken voters shows that they may be mistakenly denied from voting. According to the states in question these mass removals are their attempts to adhere to the Help America Vote Act of 2002 by removing the names of voters who should no longer be listed.

The majority of the questions regarding improper striking of voters centers around the key swing states of Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Nevada and Colorado. These states have been accused of an improper usage of voters’ Social Security information to verify their application status. They could be in further violation of federal law by removing voters from their rolls within the 90 days preceding the federal election. A voter may only be removed during that time frame if they have died, been declared unfit to vote, or informed authorities that they moved out of the state.

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When Misty Green was in kindergarten she was sexually molested by her Illinois school bus driver. The bus driver has since been convicted of child abuse and sent to prison. But now an adult Green seeks compensation from her Illinois school district based on its liability in the abuse (Green v. Carlinville Community Unit School Dist. No. 1).

An Illinois trial court granted the school district’s motion for summary judgment stating that all the counts against the district were reliant on the district’s classification as a “common carrier,” but that the district was not a common carrier. An Illinois Appellate Court agreed that the district was not a common carrier, but that it was still liable for the bus driver’s misconduct.

Under Illinois law a common carrier is a carrier who transports and serves all the public alike and does not have the ability to refuse service to anyone. Whereas a private carrier has no obligation to indiscriminately carry all of the public and instead transports only by special agreement. Both the trial and appellate court found that the school district was not a common carrier because it did not transport all of the public. Rather the district transported only students and only for student-related activities.

But even though the Illinois appellate court agreed that the school district could not be classified as a common carrier it disagreed with the trial’s court ruling- namely, that the district was not liable for the bus driver’s misconduct. Instead the appellate court found that the school district could be held liable.

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Illinois Appellate Court ruled that Illinois Insurance Guaranty Fund (IIGF) is responsible for paying Illinois workers’ compensation benefits to a worker who was injured on the job (Virginia Surety Co. v. Adjustable Forms, Inc.). This ruling came in spite of IIGF’s claims that the Chicago worker was also covered under Virginia Surety Co.’s policy and therefore it should be paying the Illinois workers’ compensation benefits.

Michael Hadrys, an Adjustable Forms employee, was injured while working on a construction project in Illinois called the River East Project. And as is typical in the construction industry, his insurance was an owner controlled insurance program (OCIP) meaning that it was covered through the owner of the job and not his direct employer. The OCIP was being covered by Reliance Insurance Co., who have since folded, and that’s when things get complicated.

Typically, when an insurance company folds all its claims are handled by the Illinois Insurance Guaranty Fund (IIGF), provided that there is no other insurance company involved to take over the claim. However, in this case because Hadrys’s employer, Adjustable Forms, actually also had its own insurance through a different provider, Virginia Surety Co. Therefore the IIGF argued that it was not responsible for paying Hadrys’s workers’ compensation claim, but that Virginia Surety Co. was. Yet the Illinois Appellate Court disagreed.

The case revolved around whether or not Virginia Surety Co. was actually responsible for insuring Hadrys at the time of his Illinois construction site injury. The IIGF said that it was because it was an alternate form of insurance for Hadrys’s employer. Virginia Surety Co. said that it was not because Adjustable Forms insurance policy stated that it would cover injured employees unless they had other insurance.

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The Illinois Supreme Court handed down a controversial decision interpreting the Illinois Wrongful Death Act. The Illinois wrongful death case, Williams v. Manchester, 2008 WL 879036 (Ill Sup Ct), involved a pregnant woman, the plaintiff, Michelle Williams, who was 10.5 weeks pregnant when she was seriously injured in a car crash in Chicago.

Because of her injuries, doctors advised that her own health was at risk if the uninjured unborn child was not aborted. The legal issue was whether or not Ms. Williams could bring an Illinois wrongful death suit against the wrongdoer for the death of her child. The court held that she may not because the crash did not injure the child. The reasoning went on to state that if the unborn child had survived, there would be no case to bring for lack of injuries (damages).

The Illinois wrongful death case filed in the circuit court ended on summary judgment in favor the defendant. A divided panel of the Illinois Appellate Court reversed the lower court decision giving rise to the appeal accepted by the Illinois Supreme Court.

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The $2.5 million Illinois wrongful death verdict handed down by a Cook County jury last week was not only the largest in Cook County for a person 90 years or older, but now stands as the largest in Illinois for anyone of that age group that has been injured or killed.

Ms. Grochis was struck by a car crossing the street at Grand Avenue and 73rd Street in Elmwood Park, IL. Because she survived after being dragged 25 feet by the defendant’s car, she was awarded $1 million for pain and suffering. The jury also awarded an additional $1.5 million for the wrongful death of Ms. Grochis, who lived independently, still handling her own shopping and errands, and used public transportation to get around. She was survived by two children ages 56 and 52, along with several grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

This Cook County wrongful death verdict is reflective of a change in jury attitudes. There had been a tendency among jurors to perhaps discount or hold down the verdict to much lower levels because of the advanced years of the plaintiff. Typically when there has been either advanced years or a perceived life expectancy reduction the verdicts are on a significantly lower scale then the Grochis verdict.

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