Illinois drops a spot to 46 in Harris survey

Ann Knef Apr. 25, 2007, 8:00am

Tom Donohue

Ed Murnane

The bad news for tort reform advocates is that Illinois dropped one spot in a national survey of state legal climates.

According to the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform (ILR), Illinois fell to number 46 in "Lawsuit Climate 2007: Rating the States," an annual assessment of state liability systems.

Harris Interactive, a nonpartisan national polling firm, conducted the survey.

Tom Donohue, president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber, said in a press release that improvements in Madison County courts and recent "positive rulings" by the Illinois Supreme Court have been "cancelled out by a full-scale trial lawyer assault in the state legislature."

"Illinois' reputation for lawsuit abuse is compounding an already unfriendly business climate, and hurting the state's ability to compete in the national – and global – marketplace," Donohue said. "That kind of reputation can only hurt the state's employers, consumers and working families."

The Harris Interactive survey of 1,599 senior attorneys, now in its sixth year, is the "preeminent standard by which companies, policymakers and the media measure the legal environment of states," according to the ILR.

The report was released today.

Illinois, which was ranked number 45 last year, has languished in the bottom tier of the rankings since the survey began.

For the second year straight, West Virginia has been ranked last among the 50 states. Delaware is ranked number one, a distinction it has held since the survey's inception.

According to Donohue, trial lawyer allies in the Illinois state legislature have killed all the "important" legal reform legislation that was introduced this year.

They also are currently seeking to pass several anti-reform proposals, he said, including a bill that would allow trial lawyers to more easily target "deep pocket" defendants (Senate Bill 1296), regardless of that defendant's level of fault in a lawsuit.

The good news from the report, according to another prominent legal observer, is that this may be the year Illinois "bottoms out."

"I'm disappointed that we have dropped," said Ed Murnane, president of the Illinois Civil Justice League. "I think it's largely reflective of what we see happening in the General Assembly and the very active involvement by plaintiff's attorneys to continue to make Illinois a hostile state."

Murnane indicated he was hopeful that things will not get any worse in Illinois.

"I'm optimistic this may be the year we have bottomed out," he said. "There are signs that some legislators are getting fed up with trial lawyer abuse."

Murnane added that he was encouraged by signs coming from Madison County's judiciary, which for several years running was labeled the nation's top "judicial hellhole" by the American Tort Reform Association (ATRA).

"For years Madison County has been a scarlet letter for the Illinois judiciary," he said. "While it's too early to claim a complete reversal I see very positive signs and am very hopeful."

The ILR indicates it will be launching a national campaign highlighting the results of the study and the need for comprehensive legal reform, including newspaper and cable TV ads.

ATRA president Sherman Joyce said the Harris Poll "comports" with its organization's "Hellholes" report. He pointed out that West Virginia's legal climate in both studies is the "very worst state when it comes to civil justice."

In a press release Joyce mentioned other similar findings.

"Cook and Madison counties in Illinois, South Florida's Miami-Dade County, and Los Angeles and San Francisco were each cited in one way or another by both ATRA and the Chamber," Joyce said.

"Our methodologies vary, of course, but there is much we agree on when it comes to identifying the jurisdictions in which 'equal justice under law' is hardest to come by," he said.

The Madison County Record is owned by the Institute for Legal Reform, an affiliate of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

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