In his first state message to the legislature, Governor Bruce Rauner of Illinois laid out his true intentions: to protect those who run businesses and retain the profits at the expense of workers and other citizens in this State who want him to balance the budget, but not on their backs. I could not put it better that President Cooney of the Illinois Trial Lawyers put it today in his responsive press release. Here it is in total:
Gov. Rauner Opens Another Front in the War Against the Middle Class with His State of the State Address
Limiting Access to Courts Further Jeopardizes Illinoisans’ Financial Security
Statement from Illinois Trial Lawyers President John Cooney
Legendary investor Warren Buffett, worth $63.3 billion and the second richest man in America, said it best: “There’s class warfare, all right, but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning.” Today’s speech by Gov. Rauner should be seen for what it is: a declaration of war against the financial security and prospects of middle and lower-income Illinoisans by Rauner and the fellow millionaires and billionaires who put him in office.
After being propelled to the governorship with a record $60 million dollars – money mostly raised from the country’s wealthiest families and businesses – and offering few specifics but plenty of platitudes and pleasant promises, today Rauner demanded that lawmakers roll back the financial safeguards that our state’s tort and workers’ compensation systems afford to the vast majority of Illinoisans. If successful, Rauner and his allies will only worsen the position of an embattled middle class that has suffered a substantial decline in its financial security and real wages for the last forty years.
Gov. Rauner, a multi-millionaire who owns nine houses, has suggested workers should fund a higher minimum wage by weakening currently modest workplace protections and forfeiting the right to reasonable compensation for those who suffer severe or catastrophic injuries. It would be a tremendous misinterpretation of last year’s election results to believe that Illinoisans want to place business profits, at record highs in 2014, and the interests of the monied and powerful above injured workers and victims of malfeasance. It also defies belief that Illinoisans voted to support weak laws that allow negligent drivers, polluters, careless professionals, and derelict corporations to escape accountability when their actions hurt others.
Eroding the constitutional rights of citizens to access the courts that their tax dollars fund would send the message that our civil justice system is mainly for the use of corporations and the wealthy, rather than something that belongs to everyone, regardless of their means.
The fact is that very few Americans ever file lawsuits. In Illinois, more than 70 percent of court actions are initiated by businesses suing other businesses or individuals for money. Gov. Rauner has not proposed limiting corporations’, banks’ and investment companies’, like the one that made him rich, abilities to use the court system. Since 2007, the number of all civil cases in Illinois courts is down 26 percent. As for medical malpractice cases, the number brought in our state has steadily declined over the past decade; it’s fallen nearly 40 percent since 2003.
Should a man like Bruce Rauner, who says his net worth is north of half-a-billion dollars, or a family member be injured, sickened or disabled due to someone else’s wrongdoing, they need not worry as to whether the resources will be there to care for them. They won’t face the possibility of destitution, losing their home and life savings. They do not need to fear that they will end up utterly dependent on taxpayers for their health care, housing, and food. It will not be their fate to suffer in misery and die in poverty. They will have no trouble retrofitting their home, seeing the best doctors and physical therapists, and hiring compassionate, well-trained aides to help bathe, feed and get them into bed. But, that’s not the case for most Illinoisans, who must turn to our courts for help if they are to have any hope of avoiding ruin when they are unable to work or care for themselves. We encourage Gov. Rauner to join us and meet some of the individuals and families who have seen their lives drastically changed in an instant through no fault of their own. From them, he might come to learn just how important fair and balanced tort laws and sensible workers’ compensation statutes are in helping them to achieve a measure of dignity and independence.
If Gov. Rauner and his allies want to have a debate over what justice means for someone who lost a child due to a physician’s gross negligence, a worker maimed because his plant didn’t want to spend a few extra dollars for safer equipment, or for an individual killed when shrapnel severed their carotid artery after a defective airbag inexplicably exploded in their face, let’s have that debate and not hide behind other issues. The Illinois Trial Lawyers Association wishes Gov. Rauner the best in tackling the state’s true challenges, but linking them to unrelated matters is placing extremist ideology and the politics of greed before the best interests of our state’s citizens.
Illinois lawmakers would do well to reject race-to-the-bottom policies that leave most of their constituents poorer and more vulnerable while benefitting only a few at the very top, who have done just fine and work in very safe office suites and boardrooms.