Relatives of Illinois Veterans Home residents who died of Legionnaires' disease, at a gathering in Quincy two years ago. In the back row, from left to right, are Paul Harrison, Barb Harrison, Diane McHatton, Tim Miller, Steve French and Dennis Miller. In front, from left to right, are Barb Kiefer, Jana Casper, Cindy Cassens and Brenda Sprague.
Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul and families who lost loved ones to Legionnaires' disease at the state-run Quincy veterans' home are agreeing to nearly $6.4 million in settlements to end their negligence lawsuits against the state.
The state's top law enforcement officer entered the mediated agreements with the state Court of Claims this week, an important step toward issuing taxpayer-funded payouts to the estates of a dozen Illinois Veterans Home residents, each ranging between $75,000 and $775,000.
Families of the deceased won't receive checks from Springfield until state lawmakers return to the Capitol and approve a budget for the new state fiscal year that begins July 1.
Most of the legal cases stem from a 2015 Legionnaires' disease outbreak at the veterans home that killed 12 residents and sickened dozens more people. There were more cases at the home in 2016, 2017 and 2018, and two more deaths were connected to Legionnaires'. A years-long WBEZ investigation chronicled the state's mishandling of the crisis, prompting changes to state law, public investigations and an ongoing criminal probe.
One veteran's daughter told WBEZ this week that she is relieved she can finally put closure to the death of her father, William Schrand, the sixth resident of the home to die from Legionnaires' in 2015. His estate will receive $360,000 from the state under terms of the proposed settlement.
"I feel good that it's over," said Barb Kiefer, who lives in Quincy. "We just needed to put this to rest."
Representatives for several other families did not immediately respond to WBEZ's queries seeking public comment on the settlements. Some had previously criticized Raoul and Gov. JB Pritzker — both of whom campaigned in 2018 on winning justice for Quincy families — for the dragged-out settlement talks.
Kwame Raoul sits down for an interview at WBEZ in 2018, during his run for Illinois Attorney General. Raoul campaigned on winning justice for Quincy families.
Raoul, who took office in January 2019, inherited the legal disputes arising from successive Legionnaires' outbreaks at the Quincy facility — a long-running public-health crisis that tainted former Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner's legacy and contributed to his failed reelection bid.
In an interview, Raoul called the process of settling with the families "a solemn act." The Democrat said he believes the final outcomes in their lawsuits are fair, even though the agreed-upon payouts fell far short of the maximum seven-figure awards allowed in cases before the Court of Claims.
"In answering whether the families received justice, what I can say is there is no dollar amount that suffices to replace a lost loved one," Raoul said in an interview with WBEZ this week.
In 2018, after the WBEZ investigation, Illinois lawmakers established a new $2 million cap on payouts by the state Court of Claims, a quasi-judicial body set up to decide lawsuits against state government. The legislature abolished the decades-old limit on Court of Claims awards of $100,000 — the lowest such cap in the country — and made the new cap retroactive to include the still-pending Quincy families' lawsuits.
"I made sure where and whenever we had the opportunity, what was important to me was to express condolences on behalf of the state," Raoul said. "Because again there's no monetary amount that suffices to replace the life of a loved one. And I think it's important to approach these matters with such compassion."
Raoul said, as part of the legal settlements, there is no explicit acknowledgement of wrongdoing by the state. He also said he expects a resolution soon to an ongoing criminal investigation into the outbreaks at the veterans' home. That probe began under his predecessor, former Attorney General Lisa Madigan.
Raoul would not say whether he expects any criminal indictments to arise from the investigation. No one has been charged so far.
The attorney general said he agreed to a request from several of the families to include the Legionnaires' victims' names on a memorial plaque to go inside the new $230 million veterans' home being built to replace the old facility that once housed Civil War veterans. That project was triggered, in part, by WBEZ's investigation.
The entrance to the Illinois Veterans Home displays the year the long-term care facility first opened. It is the largest and oldest of four state-run veterans' homes.
For her part, Keifer praised the attorney general's office for the way its lead negotiator handled her settlement.
"He came in and extended his sympathies to us and that just put the icing on the cake to me because nobody else in the previous administration ever said anything to me as a family member," Kiefer told WBEZ.
Gov. Pritzker, meanwhile, said he was pleased that a resolution finally had been reached with families.
"I'm glad these cases are being settled," the governor told WBEZ in an interview. "It means there was an agreement, and people got some compensation."
"As to whether it's full justice, I can't really answer," he said. "What I can say is there is no value you can put on somebody's life so I can't speak to whether these numbers are enough," the governor continued. "I think about my own family. How do you even put a dollar value on your family member?"
Dave McKinney and Tony Arnold cover Illinois state politics and government for WBEZ. Follow them on Twitter @davemckinney and @tonyjarnold.