The experienced personal injury attorneys of Passen & Powell were disappointed to see the Illinois House take action last week to cap appellate bonds. While this action may prevent extremely rare instances of excessive bonds, it also acts to curtail the rights of successful plaintiffs and put them at risk of losing their recovery should the circumstances of the offender change.
When a plaintiff prevails in a civil lawsuit in Illinois, the defendant may appeal the ruling to a higher court. However, to protect the plaintiff’s rights, an appealing defendant – particularly a corporate defendant – is typically required to put up a bond to secure the amount of the judgment. That way, should the company’s fortunes change during the course of the appeal, or the defendant attempt to declare bankruptcy after losing the appeal, the plaintiff will still be able to recover for the harm done to her, as awarded by the lower court.
This system generally works well to protect the rights of victorious personal injury and product liability plaintiffs, while still allowing defendants their own appellate rights. There is, however, very rarely an outlying bond award which makes observers suspect abuse.
That was the case recently when Philip Morris USA was ordered to post a $12 billion bond in order to appeal the verdict in a Madison County tobacco lawsuit. After a verdict that the company had misled consumers about the dangers of “lite” cigarettes, a $10.1 billion judgment was entered. The court then set the bond at $12 million, to provide for interest during the period of the appeal. The Illinois Supreme Court later reduced the bond to $6 billion, before finally reversing the original judgment.
Thus, the Illinois House has now passed a bill limiting appellate bonds to $250 million. This limit would be enforced regardless of the size of the award in the lower court.
While we appreciate that the Philip Morris case was an outlier, our Chicago product liability attorneys do not believe that the correct response is to punish all plaintiffs for this aberration. Arbitrary caps on bonds, much like arbitrary caps on damages, impair the rights of plaintiffs who have suffered the worst injuries, at the hands of defendants who have engaged in the worst misconduct.
We urge the Illinois Senate, to whom the bill now returns, to kill this inappropriate and unfair legislation. We hope that, through such action, the rights of Illinois plaintiffs can still be preserved and protected.
For a free consultation with an experienced Chicago personal injury lawyer at Passen & Powell, call us at (312) 527-4500.