State trooper's widow testifies against capping jury awards

  • Elizabeth Sauter testifies in front of the Illinois House Tuesday. She says capping the amount of money individuals can receive in lawsuits would hurt victims.

      Elizabeth Sauter testifies in front of the Illinois House Tuesday. She says capping the amount of money individuals can receive in lawsuits would hurt victims. Erin Hegarty | Staff Photographer

  • James Sauter

    James Sauter

 
 
Updated 5/13/2015 5:41 AM

The widow of a suburban state trooper who was killed on the job two years ago says she'd give back the legal settlement she received for more time with her husband.

Trooper James Sauter of Vernon Hills was killed March 28, 2013, when a semitrailer truck struck his squad car on the Tri-State Expressway near Northbrook. The driver of the truck had fallen asleep and hit Sauter's car from behind after crossing four lanes of traffic.

 

Elizabeth Sauter told state lawmakers Tuesday the $10.8 million settlement she received last year "does not mean that I won the lottery in any way. I would give back every penny in order to have my James back."

"People that go through tragedy don't need the stress of how to pay their bills or where they're going to go for their next meal," she said.

Sauter's comments came as part of a sweeping hearing before the Illinois House Tuesday.

Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan called the meeting to hear testimony on tort cases as part of an effort to poke holes in Gov. Bruce Rauner's priorities.

The Republican governor has made tort reform a component of his pro-business agenda. He says it's a way to save employers money.

Family members of malpractice victims testified for several hours Tuesday about how their lives changed because of mistakes made by doctors and other medical professionals, describing how caps in Missouri and Indiana limit how much that can be awarded from a jury decision.

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Jennifer Hill of Huntley told lawmakers doctors delayed performing a C-section during the birth of her oldest son, Ryan, which she said led to profound brain damage. The jury in her family's lawsuit awarded millions, money the mother of three says will ensure her son's health care is managed.

"The verdict has secured Ryan's future," Hill said.

But Indiana resident Crystal Bobbitt, who said her daughter suffers from cerebral palsy, received less than 10 percent of $15 million a jury awarded her family in their malpractice case. She said those responsible for injuring her daughter should pay for her care and that she would rather not have to rely on Medicaid and other sources.

John Pastuvoic of the Illinois Civil Justice League, which argues that too much litigation hurts the business environment, said Illinois has become a magnet for plaintiff attorneys across the country because of the "lawsuit-friendly courts."

A report from the group found disparities in case filing and jury verdict totals between Cook and five southern Illinois counties versus the rest of the state.

• Daily Herald news services contributed to this report.

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