A lawsuit magnet

Sen. Steve Rauschenberger (R-Elgin) Oct. 16, 2005, 3:41pm

Unfortunately, that’s how countless plaintiffs’ lawyers – and potential employers – around the country view Illinois. In fact, a recent Harris Poll conducted for the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform (ILR) ranks Illinois one of the worst states in the country (46th out of 50 states) for lawsuit abuse.

Respondents in the same poll – over 1,400 senior attorneys who represent major employers across the country – said that a state’s legal climate affects important decisions, such as “where to do business.” Given Illinois’ horrible reputation for lawsuit abuse, it’s no wonder our state is in the midst of a jobs crisis that has seen almost 200,000 manufacturing jobs flee in the state in the last five years.

In August, Governor Blagojevich and the Democratic-controlled state legislature (both large recipients of trial lawyer cash) succumbed to voter outrage to enact medical liability reforms. It’s a shame their opposition prevented this new law from being enacted years ago, as it will go a long way toward ending the health care crisis that has seen Illinois doctors flee the state or close up shop due to skyrocketing medical liability costs.

These medical liability reforms are a good step forward – but are only one piece of the lawsuit reform puzzle. The governor and legislature must now finish the job by passing comprehensive lawsuit reforms that remove the burden of lawsuit abuse that hangs like a stone around the neck of Illinois employers.

A recent poll conducted by nationally-renowned research firm Public Opinion Strategies shows that Illinois voters overwhelmingly support more lawsuit reform. In fact, 47 percent of respondents in that poll said that “changing the current lawsuit system to reduce the number of frivolous lawsuits” would be a very effective way to strengthen the Illinois economy. Furthermore, approximately three-quarters of state voters “believe lawsuits are an important factor in the economic problems plaguing the state,” and 84 percent say “frivolous lawsuits are a serious problem in the state.”

Bottom line -- Illinois’ voters realize that our state’s reputation for lawsuit abuse creates a hostile business climate that puts Illinois jobs at risk.

For one thing, Illinois remains a haven for frivolous lawsuits filed by out-of-state lawyers representing out-of-state victims with only a weak connection to Illinois. That is why we need venue reform to “tighten up” the rules where a lawsuit can be filed.

Our state also needs reform of joint and several liability – so that all employers, even those with “deep pockets” – only have to pay their fair share in lawsuits.

Additional necessary reforms include: reform of the state’s out-of-step class action rules; reform of the treatment of expert evidence; and, reasonable limits placed on non-economic damages in non-medical liability cases.

Is lawsuit abuse the only reason Illinois’ jobs crisis has resulted in our state’s unemployment rate being almost 20 percent higher than the national average? Of course not. But at a time when Illinois families are struggling to find work, shouldn’t our governor be seeking ways to attract new businesses, rather than seeking to placate his trial lawyer contributors?

The time is now for Governor Blagojevich to realize that he either stands with the trial bar – or he stands with the employers and working families of Illinois. The choice is clear.

As a husband, father, small business owner, and 13-year veteran of the Illinois state legislature, I have felt the impact of lawsuit abuse on my family and employees – and seen firsthand the iron grip of the trial bar on the political process. The medical liability reform victory shows that a motivated voting public can overcome the trial lawyer special interests to make change happen.

Now is the time for Illinois voters to once again demand their public officials restore fairness and balance to the state’s civil justice system so that the playing field is level for Illinois employers – rather than stacked highly in favor of the select group of wealthy trial lawyers who benefit at our expense.

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