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Bill Could Award Legionnaires’ Victims’ Families $2M From State

Families suing the state over Legionnaires’ disease deaths at a government-run veterans’ home are getting a potential legal boost from the Illinois Senate.

By a 50-0 vote, the Senate voted to raise the cap on most awards for negligence judgments against the state from the current $100,000 up to $2 million. The measure, which now moves to the House, applies to any cases pending before the state Court of Claims as of July 1, 2015.

That would encompass all 11 lawsuits from families that had loved ones die during a 2015 Legionnaires’ outbreak at the Illinois Veterans Home in downstate Quincy. Overall, Legionnaires’ has contributed to the deaths of 13 residents at the home, and dozens more have been sickened during a series of outbreaks between 2015 and last February.

A WBEZ investigation highlighted the families’ allegations that state employees and officials improperly withheld information about the presence of Legionnaires’ in Quincy facility at a time when their elderly parents were first displaying symptoms. The families also have been critical of the slowness to test for the illness and administer antibiotics, as well as the state’s failure to safeguard the home’s water system from bacteria that causes the disease.

“A lot of these families have suffered an enormous loss by losing their veteran. These veterans have given so much to our country and for them to have to die while living in state care is just unacceptable,” said state Sen. Michael Hastings, a Tinley Park Democrat who sponsored the legislation.

“This bill will help those families in their grieving process. And the governor, if he had any sense of doing something right, this would be the bill that he should sign,” Hastings said.

Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner’s administration has raised questions about some of the Quincy families’ version of events, and maintains it has followed the advice of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in handling the crisis. It’s now exploring whether to build a nearly $280 million facility at the Illinois Veterans Home.

Illinois’ $100,000 cap on Court of Claims judgments has been in place since 1972 and is the lowest in America, tied with five other states, according to the American Association for Justice, a Washington, D.C.-based trade association representing trial lawyers.

Aides to the governor Wednesday did not immediately respond to a WBEZ query seeking comment on the governor’s position on the legislation.

Dave McKinney and Tony Arnold cover state politics for WBEZ. You can follow them at @davemckinney and @tonyjarnold

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