Legislation introduced into the Illinois legislature last month would make corporations liable for punitive damages in wrongful death cases.
As the law stands now in Illinois, if someone is seriously injured by reckless or criminal corporate action, they could sue and recover punitive damages.
But if someone is killed by corporate recklessness or a corporate criminal behavior – no punitive damages would be available to the victim’s family.
The bill – HB 4968 – was introduced by Illinois House of Representatives member La Shawn K. Ford.
This morning, the Chicago Tribune ran an op-ed article today titled – Illinois law spares Boeing from paying for 737 Max 8 fatalities. Lawmakers — fix the death gap.
The article was written by Nadia Milleron, whose daughter, Samya Rose Stumo, was killed in the 2019 crash of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302.
“She was one of 157 people who died because the Boeing 737 Max 8 they were flying on was unsafe – and should never have been allowed into service,” Milleron wrote. “Their deaths came only months after the loss of Lion Air Flight 610, another 737 Max 8 that crashed minutes after takeoff, killing all 189 passengers and crew members.”
“We now know that Boeing, which is headquartered in Chicago, built a defective plane, concealed problems with the Max 8 from the Federal Aviation Administration and pilots, and deliberately moved forward with a flawed design. All while spending company profits to boost stock prices and executive pay.”
“There is a little-known flaw in the Illinois legal code that will allow Boeing to avoid paying money specifically because it killed – and didn’t injure – the victims. Even though a change in this law will not benefit my family or our fellow crash victim families, Illinois lawmakers must address this. Doing so would make sure that future Boeing aircraft passengers will be protected, as well as the victims of any other companies that may cause wrongful death .”
“Here’s the problem with Illinois’ current wrongful death statute. If a person is injured by the actions of a reckless or criminal corporation, the law allows the victim to pursue punitive damages against the company. Insurance policies do not cover these damages, and the company itself must pay. But if the victim actually dies from the same reckless conduct, the law does not allow for punitive damages from the company. Instead, the insurance company pays — but not the blameworthy corporation.”
“Illinois courts identified this issue years ago but said that it’s up to the state’s General Assembly to fix it. However, legislators never did. And now Boeing will get to save millions of dollars.”
“I am asking that Illinois legislators now do what they should have done years ago: Close the death gap.”
“In this year’s legislative session, they can simply add the words ‘punitive damages’ to the state’s wrongful death statute in order to do so. This would be a great moral victory and would both punish and deter future corporate wrongdoers from actions that might result in the death of innocent people.”
The Illinois Trial Lawyers Association (ITLA) said they would support the legislation but it will be an uphill battle in a shortened legislative session.
“It’s going to be a heavy lift,” ITLA President Matthew Dudley told Corporate Crime Reporter. “People are ill informed about the relative infrequency of punitive damages. They think it’s going to bankrupt their town or their local hospital. That is not what this legislation seeks to change.”
“We have too many examples of corporations knowing they have a dangerous product that kills and they still choose to hide everything.”
“There’s an old saying in the law – it’s cheaper to kill someone than maim them,” Dudley said. “That shouldn’t be the law in Illinois. It shouldn’t be the law anywhere. It’s nothing we should be proud of – that we protect the worst corporate actors when they kill but not when they maim.”