On Thursday the U.S. House of Representatives voted on the dangerous proposed legislation that we have been discussed for the past year-House Resolution 5. The measure may have serious effects on Illinois nursing home neglect victims, as well as many other injured community members. A strong civil justice system is an important way of preventing Illinois nursing home neglect by ensuring those who mistreat seniors are held fully accountable. Among other things, H.R. 5 places arbitrary caps on damages that certain plaintiffs can receive, even when a jury finds otherwise. As with virtually all “tort reform” efforts, it is a misguided power-grab that takes away basic legal protections from residents in favor of insulating big interests.
Unfortunately, the bill passed the House yesterday by a vote of 223-181. This was not an entirely unexpected result, considering the measure is being pushed by the House Republican party, which maintains control of that Chamber by a significant number of seats. In an Advocacy Update issued by the American Association for Justice, the body explained that, the final vote tally actually included some bright spots. Ten Republicans voted against the measure and another three voted “present” as a sign of their displeasure with the bill. In total, seven Democrats actually supported the measure, which is the lowest “defection” rate for the party on these sorts of bills. All together, this sends a strong signal that there remains widespread opposition to this proposal.
The AAJ leaders are confident that the strong No vote tally in the House sends a strong message to leaders in the Senate that these intrusive, unnecessary, and unfair measures are extraordinarily opposed. The battle now moves to that chamber where efforts will be made to ensure the Senate version of this bill does not advance. Of course, before becoming law the bill will need to pass the Senate and be signed by the President.
No matter what the Senate does, the AAJ advocates also explain that they are confident that the President will veto the bill if it ever reaches his desk. Earlier this week the President issued a Statement of Administrative Policy on the bill. The statement reiterates the fact that H.R. 5 would not do anything to help meet the goals it outlines: provide prompt and fair compensation for those hurt by malpractice, reduce preventable injuries, and lower costs. The policy statement explained that “the Administration opposes placing artificial caps on malpractice awards which will prevent patients and other claimants who have been harmed from receiving just compensation.”
Each Chicago nursing home lawyer applauds those who have spoken out against this bill so far. The strong vote totals here and support from the President and many in the Senate means that we have a good chance of ensuring that the measure never become law. However, it will be important to maintain vigilance to keep battling back against other proposed legislation that may do damage to those with loved ones in nursing homes and all community members in general. This is particularly true considering that this is an election year. It will be important to ensure legislators are elected who support legal rights.
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