Recently passed Illinois House Bill 219 and Illinois Senate Bill 1748 expand access to punitive damages and expedited trials, respectively. Illinois House Bill 219 allows for the recovery of punitive damages in all wrongful death and survival cases. Illinois Senate Bill 1748 mandates preferential trial setting in pending and future actions where the plaintiff, surviving spouse or next of kin has reached age 67. Mass-tort defendants should be aware of the new rules and how they impact pending and future litigation in this tort hot-spot.
Illinois House Bill 219: Punitive Damages in Wrongful Death Cases
Illinois House Bill 219, signed into law as Public Act 103-0514 on August 11, 2023, allows for the recovery of punitive damages in wrongful death and survival actions filed on or after the date of its passing. The law puts no limit on the amount of punitive damages. Previously, Illinois was one of 16 states that did not allow for the recovery of punitive damages in such cases.
The law clarifies that punitive damages are not available in an action for medical or legal malpractice, or in an action against the state or an employee of the state in their official capacity.
Illinois Senate Bill 1748: Expanded Availability of Trial Preference
Illinois Senate Bill 1748, signed into law as Public Act 103-0388 on July 28, 2023, and effective immediately, mandates preferential trial setting in pending and future actions where the plaintiff, or in a wrongful death action, a surviving spouse or next of kin, has reached age 67 and moves for such setting. The trial shall commence within one year of the hearing on the motion. The law formerly permitted a party that reached age 70 to move for a preferential trial setting. The former law did not specify that trial be set within one year.
The new rule also allows plaintiffs of any age to obtain preferential trial setting within one year of the hearing on a motion for such setting if the plaintiff, surviving spouse or next of kin show “substantial physical or financial hardship” or “good cause that the interests of justice will be served.” Whereas under the former rule for younger plaintiffs, the court had discretion to grant a preference (“the court may”), the new rule mandates it (“the court shall”). The new law does not clarify what constitutes physical or financial hardship sufficient to warrant granting preference.
The new legislation impacts entities defending new and pending mass-tort litigation in Illinois. The plaintiff bar is more incentivized to pursue wrongful death cases and can leverage more aggressive trial setting than they could formerly. Defendants should therefore be aware of the new rules and account for them when setting strategy and evaluating cases.
Harris Beach law clerk Julia Wanamaker also researched and authored this alert.
The Harris Beach Mass Torts and Industry-wide Litigation team welcomes questions on this subject or related matters. Please reach out to attorney Abbie Eliasberg Fuchs at (212) 313-5408 and firstname.lastname@example.org; attorney Daniel R. Strecker at (212) 912-3513 and email@example.com; attorney Dominic Conoshenti at (212) 313-5436 and firstname.lastname@example.org; or the Harris Beach attorney with whom you most frequently work.
This alert is not a substitute for advice of counsel on specific legal issues.
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