Should state law change so local governments’ first responders are immune from liability lawsuits? The Illinois Trial Lawyers Association says no.


The Illinois Supreme Court in January held the East Joliet Fire Protection District liable for the wrongful death of a resident. To avoid such situations in the future, the court said Illinois lawmakers could enshrine the public duty rule in a statute.


A proposed Illinois Senate measure says local government entities and employees owe no “duty of care” to provide services to individuals, as opposed to the public generally.


Associated Fire Fighters of Illinois President Pat Devaney supports the measure.


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“Never should a first responder have to worry about the legal ramifications of an effort to save a life,” Devaney said.


Illinois Trial Lawyers Association President Perry Browder said liability should be at the top of first responders’ minds in cases of life and death.


“Those are things that it actually helps to have a little bit of pressure and risk out there, that if somebody does something intentional or reckless that there is some type of liability out there,” Browder said.


Devaney said the state Supreme Court’s ruling could open the door to unnecessary lawsuits.


“Absent making these changes, we believe we’re going to create an environment where there’s going to be a cottage industry of frivolous lawsuits aiming to capitalize on the suffering of others,” Devaney said.


Devaney said passing a public duty rule bill will help local governments avoid shifting resources from critical services to lawsuit settlements.


Browder said the proposed measure is too broad.


“It’s one thing to protect them from negligence or a simple mistake, but yet you don’t want to protect any public organization for reckless conduct, intentional conduct, reckless disregard,” Browder said.


A proposed Senate measure remains in committee, where it’s been since February.


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