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 County has been ranked in the Top Five of the nation’s worst “judicial hellholes” – well, no one, perhaps, but the personal injury lawyers who flock here to play the lawsuit lottery in Madison County’s notoriously plaintiff-friendly courts.
According to the 2014 “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 is especially true of Madison County where personal injury lawyers continue to target Metro-East courts with frivolous lawsuits filed on behalf of out-of-state plaintiffs – only 1 in 10 of asbestos lawsuits filed in Madison County is filed by a plaintiff who ever worked or lived in the county.
Far too often, judges here allow cases to proceed with plaintiffs with no connection to the Metro-East. This kind of abuse clogs Metro-East courts, wasting taxpayer resources and delaying justice for people with legitimate claims.
Despite having only .08 % of the U.S. population, Madison County now accounts for one in four asbestos lawsuits filed in the U.S, and the situation could be getting worse as a result of surprise legislation pushed by the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association in the 11th hour of the recently concluded fall veto session of the Illinois General Assembly. The legislation (SB 2221) eliminates the state's 10-year "statute of repose" on the exposure to asbestos on building sites during construction projects, which means lawsuits arising from asbestos exposure at construction sites will have no time restrictions. Governor Pat Quinn just recently signed the legislation into law.
This 11th hour backroom money grab will only result in more lawsuits and ultimately less jobs and opportunities for Illinois residents. Illinois needs to be creating jobs, not more ways to file lawsuits. Governor-elect Rauner has already pledged to make common sense lawsuit reform a top priority next year, which is good news for Illinois residents.
Unfortunately, the early Christmas gift to the personal injury lawyers from our lame duck legislature that will make it easier to file asbestos-related lawsuits here is not likely to be reversed by the General Assembly next year, so it will be up to Madison County judges to stand up to the trial lawyers and sanction them for filing lawsuits here that have nothing to do with Illinois.
The personal injury lawyers have long had cozy relationships with Madison County judges, and in one recent case three personal injury lawyer firms gave a judge a total of $30,000 in campaign funds just days after that particular judge awarded those particular firms more than 80% of the next year’s asbestos trial slots.
But we’re seeing signs that voters are getting fed up with these shenanigans. Last month, the judge who oversaw the asbestos docket in Madison County, which set new records for lawsuits field under his watch, was voted out of office.
Voters will be watching judges closely to see what they’ll do with the expected new flood of asbestos lawsuits that have nothing to do with Illinois. Standing up to the personal injury lawyers and dismissing lawsuits from plaintiffs who do not live or work in Madison County should be every judge’s New Year’s resolution.
Travis Akin is Executive Director of Illinois Lawsuit Abuse Watch.
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Illinois General Assembly
301 S 2nd Street
Springfield, IL 62707
Illinois Governor Pat Quinn
301 S 2nd St
Springfield, IL 62701-1727
Illinois Trial Lawyers Association
401 W Edwards St
Springfield, IL 62704