Some of the most critical aspects of the civil justice process are the rules of civil procedure. As the name implies, this refers to the “procedure” that parties and their lawyers must follow when working through the system. These rules are critical, intricate, and often shape the outcome of a case. Yet, most members of the public are unfamiliar with how it all works. That unfamiliarity is a key reason why the legal process can seem confusing and contradictory.
In other words, proving liability is one part of the process–collecting evidence and presenting it such that a judge or jury issues a judgement in favor of the plaintiff. But in reaching that point, many different rules must be followed–deadlines, paperwork requirements, and so on. The same procedural rules affect cases that end in settlement, before an actual trial.
Considering the importance of procedure, those seeking to influence the justice system often seek to alter procedural laws. In this way, the system can be made better (or worse) for all cases, regardless of actual liability issues.
Settlement Payment Deadlines
For example, defendants in civil lawsuits often use every procedural trick in the book to delay payment to plaintiffs after a settlement or adverse judgement. This is why many families, including those who win cases alleging Illinois nursing home neglect, must wait months and months (or years) before actually receiving the compensation they are owed. This delay is not just unfair but damaging. Many families need to use those funds to provide support to recover from the damage–like hiring at-home caregivers or paying for a senior to live in a higher quality assisted living facility.
In order to help with the stall tactics, this session a bill was introduced in the Illinois General Assembly to put some common sense rules in place on the payment of settlement. According to the terms of Senate Bill 1912, after a settlement has been reached in a civil matter, the defendant must receive a release from the plaintiff within 14 days. That will then start the clock which would give the plaintiff 21 days to actually pay the settlement. It is a commonsense timeline to ensure that the actual matter is handled fairly and efficiently.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, advocacy groups which repeatedly try to take away rights of legal plaintiffs fought the bill. They argued that it would discourage settlements. The ITLA President responded to those critiques, noting how it was nonsensical to claim that actually paying a settlement in a timely manner somehow discourages settlements. He also noted how many families face near financial ruin as a result of delays in payments from those whose negligence caused their family harm (and financial decimation). It is more than reasonable to ensure that those who cause cause damages and agreed to provide redress be forced to actually follow through on their word efficiently.
Fortunately, the scare tactics did not work. At the end of last week the House of Representatives passed the bill–the Senate had already done so. After the Senate concurred, the measure was sent to the Governor’s desk where it awaits his signature. If he signs, the measure will become law, helping ensure fairness throughout the state.
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