Grassroots effort help stops 'Lawyers Get Work Act'

Travis Akin Jun. 28, 2008, 4:11am


Living in Illinois, it is hard to fathom how anyone could seriously think there are not enough lawsuits filed in our state.

Just in the last few months, three nationwide studies have been released, and the results clearly confirm Illinois' reputation as the "Lawsuit Capital of the Midwest."

One report put together by the Harris polling company ranks Illinois the fifth-worst state in the nation for legal fairness. Another report from the Pacific Research Institute ranks Illinois 47th in the country for tort costs and 46th in the nation for tort laws. In addition, Cook County is the third-worst "judicial hellhole" in the country, according to a report from the American Tort Reform Association.

Despite the clear need for lawsuit reforms in Illinois courts, there are many who apparently think we need to find more ways to sue here in Illinois.

Just last year, the plaintiffs' bar unsuccessfully pushed a bill to empower attorneys in cases with multiple defendants to hold the parties of the lawsuit with the deepest pockets 100 percent liable even if they are only partially at fault. This year, they focused on trying to reinstate the "Structural Work Act."

This legislation (HB 2094) would have allowed workers injured on the job to sue third parties outside of the workers' compensation system. Only one other state – New York – has kept this antiquated, anti-business and anti-consumer law on the books.

Currently, injured workers are covered by the state's Worker's Compensation system. But if the Structural Work Act had been reinstated, personal injury lawyers would have been able to pursue lawsuits against anyone involved in the job site. Nearly every employer in the state would have been exposed to new litigation.

Fortunately, the personal injury lawyers were again unsuccessful. Their efforts fell short because Illinois residents spoke and their lawmakers listened.

Illinois residents got involved in grassroots efforts to defeat this bill because they understand how our economy is already suffering as a result of the state's poor legal climate. Companies create jobs where the legal system is fair, so why would a company move to a state ranked fifth-worst in the country for legal fairness? Good question. The answer is they don't.

From 2001-2006, the US economy added 4.3 million jobs while Illinois actually lost 60,000 jobs during that time frame.

Now is not the time to create new opportunities to sue. Now is the time to change Illinois' status as a lawsuit magnet by implementing some real lawsuit reforms. How long will lawmakers continue to pass up opportunities to reform our legal system?

Lawsuit reform bills such as House Bill 5289, which would have set reasonable guidelines for where a lawsuit can be filed, seldom see the light of day. On the other hand, legislation such as HB 2094 is rushed through legislative committees. It took a statewide, grassroots effort to stop this bill in its tracks.

When lawmakers return to Springfield this fall and next spring, they need to make lawsuit reform a top priority because the longer they wait, the worse our state's legal climate will become, making it even more difficult to attract jobs and opportunities to Illinois. It is time lawmakers did more than just defeat bad bills. Now, more than ever, we need meaningful lawsuit reform.

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