Travis Akin Dec. 17, 2013, 11:33am

Any Illini or Mizzou fan would be thrilled to see their team ranked in the Top Five. But nobody in the Metro-East will be cheering the news that Madison and St. Clair counties have just been ranked in the Top Five of the nation’s worst “judicial hellholes” – well, nobody except, perhaps, the personal injury lawyers who flock here to play the lawsuit lottery in Madison County’s notoriously plaintiff-friendly courts.

According to the 2013 “Judicial Hellholes” report released by the American Tort Reform Foundation (ATRF),  a “judicial hellhole” is “a place where judges systematically apply laws and court procedures in an unfair and unbalanced manner.” That statement couldn’t be truer when describing the Metro-East.

The report notes that, “Madison County continues to cement its status as America’s busiest asbestos court. Plaintiffs come from as far as Texas and Virginia to file cases in this notoriously plaintiff-friendly jurisdiction, where defendants are routinely denied rights they receive in almost every other court in the country.”

Despite having only .008 % of the U.S. population, Madison County now accounts for an astonishing 25% of all asbestos lawsuits filed in the U.S. Additionally, only 1 in 10 of the lawsuits filed in Madison County is filed by a plaintiff who ever worked or lived in the county.

The abuse of Metro-East courts goes beyond the infamous asbestos docket. Madison and St. Clair counties continue to attract outrageous lawsuits that target local, small businesses. These abusive lawsuits limit job growth and hurt the local economy.

For instance, a man is suing a Metro-East dog kennel after being bitten when he tried to give his dog a bath. The man claims the local small business failed to properly train the dog he purchased. As another example, a woman is suing a local real estate company for not warning her not to walk around a house for sale on her own. She claims she drove by the property, saw it was for sale, took a walk around on her own and injured her ankle. Instead of taking responsibility for her actions, she filed a lawsuit.

These types of frivolous lawsuits sound funny but are no laughing matter for the small businesses sued and the people they employ. One junk lawsuit can put a small business out of business. Prospective employers look to move to places where the legal system is fair, so having one of the nation’s five-most unfair lawsuit climates in the country is clearly keeping businesses and the jobs they bring from moving to the Metro-East.

The news that Madison and St. Clair counties were named to the list of the country’s "Top Five Worst Judicial Hellholes" is not the Christmas gift Metro-East residents were hoping to receive. By swamping our courts with cases that have little to nothing to do with Madison and St. Clair counties and sinking our courts deeper into a judicial hellhole, personal injury lawyers have put a lump of coal in every Metro-East resident’s stockings this holiday season.

The time has come for the Metro-East to stop importing lawsuits and to instead become a destination for jobs and opportunities. Judges here need to take steps to restore fairness and common sense to our courts so we can begin to create jobs, not lawsuits.

Illinois Lawsuit Abuse Watch (I-LAW) is a grassroots watchdog group of concerned citizens, community leaders and small business people dedicated to educating the public about the widespread costs of lawsuit abuse. I-LAW has more than 15,000 supporters throughout Illinois.

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