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April 22, 2008

Illinois’ Legal Climate Ranks in the Bottom Five Nationally

WASHINGTON, DC – Illinois has one of the five worst legal climates in the nation according to Lawsuit Climate 2008: Ranking the States, an annual assessment of state liability systems conducted by Harris Interactive, a nonpartisan national market firm, and released today by the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform (ILR).

“Recent positive rulings by the Illinois Supreme Court and improvements in Madison County courts have been more than cancelled out by growing lawsuit abuse problems in Cook County courts and by a full-scale trial lawyer assault in the state legislature,” said Tom Donohue, president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber.

Survey respondents rated Cook County as the second worst legal environment in the country, trailing only Los Angeles.  Cook County accounts for nearly two-thirds of all of Illinois’ civil litigation.  And last November, a Cook County judge struck down a significant legal reform designed to control runaway awards in medical malpractice lawsuits.

According to ILR President Lisa Rickard, trial lawyer allies in the state legislature passed a law last year creating a new amorphous category of damages in wrongful death actions likely to lead to much higher lawsuit awards.  They also recently sought to pass several anti-reform proposals, including a bill that would allow trial lawyers to more easily target “deep pocket” defendants, regardless of that defendant’s level of fault in a lawsuit.

Rickard also noted the recently introduced legislation to allow injured workers to sue companies other than their own employer that were involved in a workplace accident, even if the incident was the fault of the injured party. The bill would also permit injured workers to seek damages from other parties while collecting workers compensation.  If passed, these proposals would further worsen Illinois’ reputation as a lawsuit abuse haven, she said.

The Harris survey is the preeminent standard by which companies, policymakers and the media measure the legal environment of states.  Illinois has languished near the bottom of the state rankings for all seven years Harris has conducted the study.

A separate survey of Illinois business owners found 89 percent believe frivolous lawsuits are a serious problem, 61 percent think the number of unfair lawsuits against businesses in Illinois will increase over the next five years, and 74 percent want the Illinois Legislature to enact new laws to help protect business from unfair and frivolous suits.

“Illinois’ reputation for lawsuit abuse is compounding an already unfriendly business climate, and hurting the state’s ability to compete in the national – and global – marketplace.  That kind of reputation can only hurt the state’s employers, consumers and working families,” Donohue said.

ILR is launching a national advertising campaign highlighting the results of the study and the need for comprehensive legal reform, including television, radio and online ads in Springfield and Chicago.

Harris asked 957 senior attorneys to evaluate up to five states in which they were “very” or “somewhat familiar” with that state’s litigation environment.  Survey respondents assigned each state a letter grade for each of 12 different factors affecting the states’ tort liability system, ranging from the overall treatment of tort and contract litigation to judges’ competence and impartiality, and Harris computed an overall score for each state based on these evaluations.

The survey of 250 Illinois business owners, 83 percent of them small businesses with fewer than 20 employees, was conducted by Public Opinion Strategies earlier this month.  It has a margin of error of +/- 7 percent.

ILR’s mission is to make America’s legal system simpler, fairer, and faster for everyone. It seeks to promote civil justice reform through legislative, political, judicial, and educational activities at the national, state, and local levels. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is the world’s largest business federation, representing more than 3 million businesses and organizations of every size, sector, and region.

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