- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 12, 2015

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) - Plaintiffs in medical malpractice and wrongful death lawsuits weighed in Tuesday about the impact of jury award limits as Illinois lawmakers began debating whether to make changes to the state’s tort reform law.

Democratic Speaker Michael Madigan called a meeting of the Illinois House to hear testimony on tort reform, which Gov. Bruce Rauner has made a component of his pro-business agenda. This is the second hearing in two weeks - a similar one on Rauner’s pension reform proposal is scheduled for Wednesday - with the purpose of poking holes in the Republican governor’s priorities.

Rauner has said tort reform is a way to save employers money, as Democratic and Republican lawmakers meet with his administration behind closed doors in an attempt to forge compromise with the governor’s “Turnaround Illinois” agenda and next year’s state budget. Democrats want Rauner to consider raising taxes to help balance the budget, but he has said he will only consider doing so if the Legislature approves some of his priorities.

Family members of malpractice victims testified for several hours Tuesday about how their lives changed because of mistakes made by doctors and other medical professionals, describing how caps in Missouri and Indiana limit how much that can be awarded from a jury decision.

Jennifer Hill of Huntley told lawmakers doctors delayed performing a C-section during the birth of her oldest son, Ryan, which she said led to profound brain damage. The jury in her family’s civil suit awarded millions, money the mother of three says will ensure her son’s health care is managed.

“The verdict has secured Ryan’s future,” Hill said.

But Indiana resident Crystal Bobbitt, who said her daughter suffers from cerebral palsy, received less than 10 percent of $15 million a jury awarded her family in their malpractice case. She said those responsible for injuring her daughter should pay for her care and that she would rather not have to rely on Medicaid and other sources.

John Pastuvoic of the Illinois Civil Justice League, which argues that too much litigation hurts the business environment, said Illinois has become a magnet for plaintiff attorneys across the country because of the “lawsuit-friendly courts.” A report from the group found disparities in case filing and verdict totals between Cook and five southern Illinois counties versus the rest of the state.

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