State Rep. Stephanie Kifowit, D-Oswego, was way out of line Tuesday when she said she’d love to pump a “broth” of deadly Legionella bacteria into the drinking water of a colleague’s family.
Even by the coarse standards of today’s politics, that was a creepy thing to say. And on Wednesday, Kifowit belatedly apologized to state Rep. Peter Breen, R-Lombard.
Kifowit’s remark also was unfortunate because it diverted attention, and perhaps public support, from a necessary reform.
The House on Wednesday — after that contentious floor debate — voted to raise the cap on the damages the state pays out in civil litigation cases to $2 million from $100,000. The increase was prompted by a desire to more fairly compensate the families of 13 veterans whose deaths at the Illinois Veterans Home in Quincy within the last three years have been linked to Legionnaires’ disease.
Kifowit’s comment was indefensible, but the former Marine’s passion for the safekeeping of her fellow veterans was understandable, and she was on the right side of the issue. The state’s cap on damages had not been raised since 1972, even as inflation over 46 years absurdly diminished the real value of $100,000.
Damages awarded today in similar civil suits against private entities routinely run into the millions. A 2012 Legionnaires’ outbreak linked to a contaminated decorative fountain in a downtown Chicago hotel, for example, killed three people. A man who was sickened but later recovered sued the hotel and was awarded $3.8 million by a Cook County jury. The family of a man who died was awarded $2.27 million.
Breen was worried about the cost of the bill to the state’s taxpayers, a valid concern. But fundamental fairness to innocent people who have been wronged must come first.
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