Demagnetizing Madison County
Painter Luke Lindau lives in Chicago’s northwest suburbs.
But when Lindau wanted to sue his former employers for allegedly exposing him to asbestos, he headed south for justice. To the suburbs of St. Louis, that is.
Lindau found a Madison County lawyer—Michael Bilbrey of Edwardsville—who fast secured him a $4 million Madison County settlement. According to published reports, that take was Illinois’ largest in an asbestos-related case last year.
So it’s no wonder why Lindau—who lives steps from a Cook County courthouse in the burgeoning suburb of Rolling Meadows--was willing to drive 300-plus miles to file his complaint in Edwardsville.
What we’re wondering is why on earth he can.
On Tuesday, the Illinois Senate’s Judiciary Committee will consider a measure that would save the Luke Lindaus of the future some gas money. In the process, it would save the Illinois courts' system from its reputation for ‘uneven’ justice.
Senate Bill 1724 would require that lawsuits be filed where a plaintiff lives or where the ‘action’ at issue occurred. And it would stop the practice of lawyers crafting dubious connections to Alton or Granite City so as to justify filing their lawsuit in our “plaintiff-friendly” courts.
Illinois’ forum shopping problem is about much more than high-profile asbestos or class action cases. The bill would prevent incidents like that of August 2003, when the Illinois Supreme Court rebuked Madison County Judge Philip Kardis after he allowed an out-of-area personal injury lawsuit in his Third Circuit courtroom.
The case, involving a plaintiff from Greene County and an auto accident in Macoupin County, was the brainchild of Wood River’s powerful Lakin Law Firm.
As our editor Ann Knef reports this week, our Third Circuit sees gobs more tort activity of every kind than similar jurisdictions throughout the state.
For instance, McHenry County in Chicago’s far northern suburbs is home to 10 percent more people than Madison County. But in 2003 and 2004, our courthouse saw 400 percent more major civil lawsuits than theirs, some 3,500+ to its 821.
Hugging the Mississippi River an Iowa border, Rock Island County has just more than half the our population but it had less than 10 percent -- 339-- of the lawsuits we did during the same period.
Staggering numbers like these show why forum shopping is as much a problem for Madison County citizens as it is road-weary defendants.
Our judges—- elected by Madison County voters to serve its people—- should be minding our issues, not those of every trial lawyer with map and a suitcase.
Their "shopping" suggests what we cannot accept from our justice system-- that it isn't evenhanded and just.
Plaintiffs like Luke Lindau deserve a fair hearing, but they should get it at their own county courthouse.
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