Good for lawyers, bad for jobs

The Madison County Record Jul. 9, 2006, 8:41am

It wasn't a local story, but last week Honda chose a site in Indiana over East Central Illinois for its new $400 million manufacturing plant--- one that will eventually be worth 2,000 new high-paying jobs. Company executives didn't say it, but it wasn't hard to figure out why.

All things being equal-- why take the risk? Frivolous lawsuits are the bane of automakers these days, and it isn't the Hoosier State that's so known for them.

But lest one pin the entirety of Illinois' pro-lawsuit reputation on the Metro-East's notorious courts, we direct your attention to two untimely June opinions of the State Supreme Court that didn't exactly bolster Governor Blagojevich's "pro-business" sales pitch to Honda.

In the first, the Court ruled that a contractor whose law firm negligently botched its lawsuit against a bank couldn't sue the firm to recover lost punitive damages. Delivering the majority opinion, Justice Lloyd Karmeier said that it wasn't fair to blame the lawyers "for the intentional or willful and wanton misconduct of a third party." Fair enough.

But then, in a second opinion issued at the same time, the Court ruled that in the case of Illinois businesses, the opposite should be true.

Detroy Marshall was eating at a Rockford Burger King when a car crashed through the wall and killed him. The driver had backed into a lamppost and, then pulling forward, lost control of her car, rolling it up a sidewalk and taking it airborne before crashing into the brick wall and windows where Marshall sat.

Suffice to say, it was a one-time, tragic freak occurence precipitated by a "third party," not the restaurant itself. But the Illinois Supreme Court ruled 5-2 that Marshall's family could sue Burger King for negligence, arguing businesses have an obligation to protect their "business invitees," even from such extraordinary accidents that aren't "reasonably foreseeable."

In her dissent, Justice Mary Ann McMorrow feared that the opinion "has the potential to alter substantially the function and appearance of every city in the state."

To which losing Honda is a glaring example, maybe she wasn't just talking about aesthetics.

In these dynamic economic days, business climate matters more than it ever has. Having courts that hold businesses to a higher standard than lawyers doesn't exactly endear our state to the jobs of tomorrow.

That is, unless you think Illinois should aspire to produce more lawsuits than cars. Then, no doubt, we're on the right track.

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