Common sense reforms to protect Illinois jobs

To help create and expand job opportunities for Illinois workers, business and civil justice reform groups called on lawmakers today to return fairness to the court system by implementing much needed reforms to curb lawsuit abuse.

In its recently released study “Litigation Imbalance III” the Illinois Civil Justice League (ICJL) uncovered disturbing data about the growing level of lawsuit abuse occurring throughout Illinois. The study shows the problem has deepened in Cook County, intensified in Madison and St. Clair counties and taken root in downstate Jackson, Jefferson and Williamson counties. Abuse of the legal system in these counties impact the entire state because lawyers “venue shop” – directing court cases from other areas to these “friendlier” jurisdictions.

In Cook County, the number of lawsuits filed per 1,000 people is more than double that of the neighboring collar counties. While Cook County is 40.7% of the Illinois population, it accounts for 64.1% of all court cases filed Illinois.

The average plaintiff award in Cook County was $1 million, four times greater that the average awards in surrounding counties.

Madison County lawsuits are double that of Cook County, triple the rate of St. Clair County and six and a half times the rate of the other 99 Illinois counties combined.

The hallmark of any judicial system must be consistency. But the ICJL study shows Cook County and several downstate counties observe dramatically different lawsuit filing rates and case outcomes than do their neighboring counties.

Reforms are needed
“When it comes to jobs, Illinois is dead last among it regional neighbors,” said Tiger Joyce with the American Tort Reform Association. “In fact, in Illinois’s traditional manufacturing towns like Decatur and Rockford…it’s so hard to find work these days that residents are either leaving the state to follow the jobs or just leaving the workforce altogether out of despair. “

Joyce stressed that states enacting common sense judicial reforms have improved their economies, lowered unemployment and boosted workers’ income.

Governor Rauner has introduced reasonable lawsuit reforms that would improve the business climate in Illinois while ensuring residents’ right to seek damages when injured. Here is an overview of those reforms.

Venue Shopping.  Lawyers would be prohibited from shopping around for “friendlier” court jurisdictions. Lawsuits filed in Illinois counties would have to have an actual connection to the jurisdiction. This will unclog the courts and speed the legal process for those with legitimate claims.

Joint and Several Liability.  The current rule of joint and several liability requires that a defendant who is only minimally liable to pay an entire judgment when co-defendants who are more culpable are unable to pay their share. That’s neither fair nor rational.  Replacing it with a proportionate liability system, where each co-defendant is held responsible for the same percentage of judgement as their liability, makes much more sense. For example, a co-defendant that is found by a jury to be 20% responsible for a plaintiff’s injury would be required to pay no more than 20% of the entire settlement.

These reforms would send a strong message to businesses that they will be treated fairly in Illinois, while protecting residents’ rights to seek justice when