U.S. District Court Declines to Rule Unconstitutional the Illinois Prejudgment Interest Act

A federal district court judge in Chicago declined to stay the prejudgment interest in a medical malpractice case, reaching a similar conclusion given by another federal judge in this highly anticipated ruling.

In a written opinion recently published, U.S. District Court Judge Steven C. Seeger declined to rule on the constitutionality of the Illinois Prejudgment Interest Act.

“Defendants offer no reason to stay application of the statute, other than a barebones gesture to a non-binding state court decision,” the judge wrote in a statement. “That’s not enough of a reason to stay the application of a statute that promotes settlement talks.”

In the underlying case, the plaintiff Azhar Saiyed sued the United States as well as Swedish Covenant Hospital, Swedish Covenant Health and Swedish Covenant Management Health Services Inc. over the death of his wife during childbirth.

Saiyed brought the wrongful death and negligence lawsuit against the hospital and other defendants. The case was removed to the federal court because the physician and midwife who were involved in the case were federal employees.

The defendants sought to stay the application of the Prejudgment Interest Act, an Illinois statute that governs prejudgment interest in personal injury and wrongful death cases.

The question of the state’s constitutionality has been moving through the circuit court across the state. While a majority of judges have upheld its constitutionality, a Cook County circuit court judge held the statute was unconstitutional in Hyland, etc. v. Advocate Health and Hospitals Corp., et al., No. 17 L 3541.

The Prejudgment Interest Act allows plaintiffs in personal injury and wrongful death lawsuits to collect interest against defendants from the time the lawsuit is filed, rather from the time judgment is entered, effective July 1, 2021.

In Hyland, now-retired Circuit Court Judge Marcia Maras ruled in May 2022 that the act was unconstitutional because it violated various federal and state constitutional provisions, including the provision about “special legislation” under the Illinois Constitution.

The defendants in the federal case cite Hyland in their reasoning for the stay, essentially asking the court to stop the clock on prejudgment interest considering the ongoing challenges to its constitutionality.

Judge Seeger said the defendants did not advance much of an argument about the constitutionality of the statute on the merits, nor did they ask the court to substantively weigh in.

Rather, the defendants asked the court to put prejudgment interest “on ice until the constitutional dust settles.”

One other court in the Northern District of Illinois faced a motion to stay application of the statute and denied it, Judge Seeger noted, citing Aguilar v. Hilton Worldwide Corp., 2022 WL 2139573 (N.D.Ill. 2022).

Judge Seeger wrote that the Hyland decision is not binding on the court considering that it came from a Cook County circuit court and not the Illinois Supreme Court. The judge also noted that under Illinois law, the decision of circuit courts has no precedential value, citing Delgado v. Bd. of Election Comm’rs, 865 N.E.2d 183, 188 (Ill. 2007).

Additionally, Judge Seeger then said the courts are not bound to follow decisions of equal or inferior courts, citing People v. Canulli, 792 N.E.2d 438, 444 (Ill. 2003).

“As things stand, no one knows how the constitutionality of the statute will shake out. Maybe the Illinois appellate courts will uphold the statute, or maybe not. There is risk. And that risk should incentivize parties to make decisions about a possible resolution of the case.”

Judge Seeger also noted in his reasoning that the case itself is still a long way from trial. Considering that entering judgment in the case won’t take place anytime soon, Judge Seeger said he finds no reason to address the statute’s constitutionality when the Illinois appellate courts may offer guidance.

Saiyed v. Swedish Covenant Hospital, et al., No. 20-cv-05534.

Kreisman Law Offices has been successfully handling personal injury lawsuits, car accident lawsuits, medical malpractice cases, nursing home abuse lawsuits, and birth injury cases for individuals, families and loved ones who have been injured, harmed or killed by the carelessness or negligence of a medical provider for more than 45 years, in and around Chicago, Cook County and its surrounding areas, including Roselle, Palatine, Algonquin, Inverness, Northbrook, Highwood, Winnetka, Skokie, Franklin Park, Westchester, Oakbrook Terrace, Darien, Homer Glen, Mokena, Olympia Fields, Chicago Heights, South Holland, Chicago (East Side, West Pullman, Morgan Park, Roseland, Avalon Park, South Shore, Jackson Park, Washington Park, Back of the Yards, Burnham Park, South Loop, West Garfield Park, Austin, Logan Square, Wrigleyville, Albany Park, Edgewater, Uptown, Jefferson Park), Des Plaines, Niles, Hawthorne Woods, Vernon Hills and Deerfield, Ill.

Robert D. Kreisman has been an active member of the Illinois and Missouri bars since 1976.

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