'Hellhole' status hurts us all

Travis Akin Jan. 6, 2008, 8:20am


When most folks think of Chicagoland, landmarks such as Navy Pier, the Sears Tower and Wrigley Field immediately come to mind.

Chicagoland is also known for the famous Billy Goat Tavern and Grill, Arlington Racetrack festival and killer pizza.

Unfortunately, Chicago, and Cook County, specifically, has become better known as a haven for lawsuit abuse and a personal injury lawyer's paradise, which led a national legal watchdog group recently to name Cook County the third-worst "judicial hellhole" in the nation.

The report, issued by the American Tort Reform Association, examined courts and legal systems across the country and determined that Cook County is one of the nation's worst jurisdictions for legal fairness.

This dishonorable ranking adversely affects everyone not only in the Chicagoland region, but in the entire state of Illinois.

Cook County is the economic engine for the state, but rampant lawsuit abuse is limiting economic development opportunities and driving away jobs.

No other county or state in the region was cited as a judicial hellhole; further cementing Cook County's standing as the "Lawsuit Abuse Capital of the Midwest." This dubious distinction is something employers cannot and will not ignore.

Companies create jobs where the legal system is fair, so why would a company move to a county ranked third-worst in the country for legal fairness?

Obviously, not every Illinoisan has a Cook County zip code, but Cook County's status as a judicial hellhole has put a black mark on the entire state.

The legacy of Cook County's judicial hellhole status is lost jobs and opportunities and a slow-growth economy. Illinois has lagged behind the nation in terms of both GDP and job growth.

From 2001-2006, the national GDP grew 15 percent while Illinois' GDP grew just 9 percent or 40 percent more slowly. During that same period, the U.S. economy added 4.3 million jobs, while Illinois actually managed to lose 60,000 jobs.

But there is another side to this story. Perennial hellholes, Madison and St. Clair Counties have been moved off the hellholes list to the watch list. These two Illinois counties once topped the hellholes list, but thanks to the grassroots efforts of ordinary citizens who took a stand, these two counties are no longer the plaintiffs' paradise they once were.

The story of Madison and St. Clair Counties is a testament to the power of grassroots. What happened in Madison and St. Clair counties can happen in Cook County, but nothing will change there if we simply ignore the problem.

Unless the people of Illinois stand up, Cook County will continue to rise to the top of the judicial hellholes list and Illinois' economy will continue to stagnate.

It is time for the people of Illinois to put pressure on their lawmakers and demand real lawsuit reform. Our economy depends on it.

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