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General Assembly Passes Law to Require Efficient Settlement Payments

The Illinois General Assembly ended its official 2013 legislative session last Friday. As usual in the chamber, the elected body left many issues to the very end. Some of the items on the docket related to different proposals affecting the civil justice system–even those which may implant those who suffer a traumatic brain injury as a result of negligence.

New Legislation
For example, SB1912 was contested last week. The bill–first introduced in the Senate in mid-February–dealt with procedural rules for settlements in civil law cases. Specifically, the measure requires a “release” to be given to defendants in a case within 14 days of an agreement being reached between the parties in a civil lawsuit. Once that happens a 21 day timeline begins, and the defendant has those three weeks to pay the full settlement amount.

Proponents of the measure explain that the law is vital to ensure that families receive the settlement damages they are owed in a timely fashion. As many Illinois residents who suffer brain injury (and their families) appreciate, expenses pile up very quickly after an accident. Medical bills eventually roll in on top of extended costs for nursing support, therapy, equipment, and more. On top of that, on many occasions, the injured party immediately loses the ability to make an income, but the bills they owe are not put on hold. This has led many families to the brink of financial collapse.

It is unacceptable for any defendant to make life even worse for those that are already suffering because they delay in making key settlement payments. This law will hopefully change that.

Status
The Senate passed the legislation through the body in mid-May, moving it to the House. The bill was fast-tracked in the House, partly due to the looming end of session deadline, and the measure passed with 67 votes (60 were needed) on Tuesday. In the final day of session the Senate voted to concur on the measure (needed when the bills each in chamber are slightly different).

That means that it now moves to the Governor’s desk. If he signs it, then it will become law and begin helping families throughout the state.

Political Debate
Unsurprisingly, while the bill was being debated, advocates for special interests and those fighting legal fairness for community members attacked the proposal. Claims were made that the measure would discourage settlements. On its face, it seems odd that a bill which simply requires settlements to actually be paid in a timely fashion would discourage them.

The President of the Illinois Trial Lawyer’s Association issued an editorial last week that took on some of those critics. The article took issue with the characterization used so often by legal fairness opponents of a lawsuit settlement or verdict a akin to winning the lottery. The ITLA President rightly notes that no family caught in a severe accident and injury resulting in a significant legal case wouldn’t reverse the clock in a heartbeat, giving back any damages, if only the damage from the negligence could be reversed.

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