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Sunday Letters: Hold towns to account for bad emergency service

Proposed state law would hold first responders such as firefighters to great account when negligent, say Illinois trial lawyers.

Imagine suffering a serious injury or dying because a police officer or emergency services worker intentionally hurt you or was utterly indifferent to your well-being.

Under Illinois law, you can now hold the local government accountable for that misconduct – but only if you can prove that one of its employees deliberately intended to harm you or acted with reckless disregard for your safety. That standard is very difficult to meet but at least affords you a chance at obtaining justice.

SEND LETTERS TO: letters@suntimes.com. Please include your neighborhood or hometown and a phone number for verification purposes.

Under legislation pending in Springfield, which this newspaper supported in a recent editorial (“Don’t tie hands of emergency personnel with lawsuits,” May 9, 2016), that same local government would be immune from responsibility for its employee’s reckless or intentionally harmful behavior, even if it failed to adequately train, supervise or heed warning signs about that employee’s conduct. Implementing the so-called “public duty rule” embodied in that bill would do nothing to eliminate frivolous lawsuits; it only would only make local governments less accountable to the people they are supposed to protect.

The Illinois Supreme Court correctly struck down the public duty rule earlier this year because, among other reasons, it was confusing and outdated. The high court acknowledged that the state’s Tort Immunity Act already protects units of government and their employees from being sued for negligent behavior – but recognized that citizens need an avenue for redress of particularly egregious acts of abuse.

Contrary to the doomsday prophesies of those looking for another opportunity to strip Illinoisans of their right to access the courts their tax dollars fund, since the court’s decision on Jan. 22, there has not been a single lawsuit filed that shows we need to change state law.

Our justice system is designed to weed out the very few meritless lawsuits that are filed long before they ever get to trial. Those pushing to reinstate the public duty rule should come clean about what they really want: less accountability for public employees, even in cases of the most reckless or even intentionally harmful acts. We urge legislators to reject this effort to limit Illinoisans’ rights.

Perry J. Browder

President

Illinois Trial Lawyers Association

Say no to Lucas on lakefront

I’m sick and tired of reading letters by “outraged” Chicagoans, ripping and shredding Friends of the Park into little bits. Friends of the Park is not against the Lucas Museum. It is against putting the museum on the lakefront. Period. Why is that not understood? And why are sites off the lakefront not being considered? Seems to me any non-parkland west of Lake Shore Drive would be acceptable. Chicago should offer George Lucas other potential sites, but that’s all they owe him. If he can’t agree to one, then we have to assume that his interests are more important to him than Chicago’s. If he walks, it’s on him. Nobody else.

Tony Galati, Lemont

Discipline cops who neglect rape kits

The Chicago Sun-Times correctly editorialized on Thursday in support of a bill that would track submission of rape-kit evidence collected by local police agencies to the Illinois State Police, Division of Forensic Services (the “Illinois Crime Lab”) for testing. Tracking kit submission and follow-up by local police upon receipt of a positive crime lab report of a match identifying a “DNA donor” is necessary to avoid kits collecting dust on a shelf in some local police department, as was the case with 55 kits in the Robbins Police Department.

As an aside, not much has apparently changed in the 45 years since my stint prosecuting crime in south Cook County suburbs, where Robbins’ “evidence vault” was a big, unsecured, four-foot-tall, cardboard box set in the unlocked police chief’s office.

Even when rape kits are submitted for testing, it takes about a year to get results back from the state crime lab. https://chicago.suntimes.com/news/state-crime-lab-takes-a-year-to-test-rape-kits-alvarez-says

Detectives and investigators who fail to promptly submit rape kit evidence to the Illinois Crime Lab and timely follow-up checking for results should be disciplined with suspensions or dismissal. And the Illinois General Assembly should reconsider whether piddly drug cases by the tens of thousands should be allowed to delay the testing of rape kits. Which is more important: identifying a few grams or ounces of drugs or finding a DNA match to a rapist?

The allocation of lab time, like the allocation of police effort, is better sent on violent crime that trying to stamp out consensual drug use behavior by adults.

James Gierach, Palos Park