A law that inspires victims

The Madison County Record Jan. 14, 2007, 3:12am

Politics is often a tale of unintended consequences.

There's no better example these days than that Illinois' Consumer Fraud Act (ICFA). Created to protect our most vulnerable from unseemly scam artists, it's instead inspiring an entire new industry of feigned personal casualty.

That is, legal scam artists. Lawyers bent on manufacturing "fraud" that might suffice to earn them a hefty payday. The rough recipe: one part willing/unknowing plaintiff, five parts exaggeration and, of course, a straight face.

The net for Illinois has been thousands of frivolous lawsuits conjured up solely so lawyers can extort a legal fee. If our lawmakers in Springfield are looking for specific reasons to clean up this mess, they (as usual) need look no further than the Metro-East.

ICFA is used so often to file lawsuits in Madison County, our court should raise it a shrine. Thinking about it, we already have one. The new criminal courts building, built with dirty money earned from that appeal bond posted by ICFA poster-victim Philip Morris, fits the bill literally.

Lawyer Stephen Tillery used ICFA to accuse Philip Morris of "defrauding" smokers into believing light cigarettes were healthy. Their "damages" suffered were the difference between what they paid and what they would have paid, had they not been duped. Had he prevailed, smokers would have gotten cents-level refunds and Tillery more than $1 billion for his efforts.

Such big game ICFA-hunting garners the headlines, but it's the littler stuff that proves the bulk of this nuisance.

Alton lawyer Lanny Darr, best known for his dramatic lawsuits over unwanted faxes ("an unlawful taking... of electricity"), recently saw another of his ICFA gems come to an uneventful, if judicially time-consuming close.

Darr was distressed over the replacement car his insurance company asked him to drive while his Ford Explorer was in the shop. Affirmative Insurance suggested a brand new Dodge Neon. For this 66 year-old Godfrey counselor, it wasn't high-class enough. So he rented his own luxury SUV and sent the company a bill, hoping it wouldn't pay it so he could sue.

Affirmative did pay. But Darr sued anyway. The reason-- Affirmative originally told him it wouldn't. Imagine the pain?

Judge Dan Stack suffered through the case for 18 months before he could (finally) stomp it to death. He shouldn't have had to.

Presumably, laws are wont to make the people safer. ICFA is clogging up our courts when it's not drawing a ready-made target on every business in Illinois.

Hey legislature-- isn't it about time for a fix?

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