Illinois needs more not less legal reform

Travis Akin Oct. 5, 2008, 3:59am


To say that Illinois' legal climate has improved in recent years is much like saying the accounting practices at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac should be the standard for the mortgage industry.

For the second year in a row, Illinois ranks 46th out of 50 states for legal fairness, according to a recent report from the respected Harris Interactive polling company. According to Directorship" magazine and the American Justice Partnership Foundation's 2008 Boardroom Guide to State Litigation Climates, Illinois' litigation climate is dead last in the country.

In other words, Illinois' legal climate is not exactly moving in a positive direction.

But this is not to say that there have not been any improvements at all. Certainly the landmark medical malpractice reform legislation approved in 2005 helped to create a more stable legal environment for Illinois' physicians. As a result, ISMIE Mutual Insurance Company, the state's largest physician insurer, recently announced its basic premium rates would not be going up for the second year in a row.

Reforms enacted by Chief Judge Ann Callis have helped to turn around Madison County – a county that once had the dubious distinction of being the nation's worst judicial hellhole. In fact, Madison and St. Clair Counties did not even make the latest "Judicial Hellholes" report from the American Tort Reform Association.

To go from the worst judicial hellhole in the country to not even making the list is certainly a remarkable achievement. It is a tribute to the power of grassroots. Concerned citizens saw a tremendous problem, took action and helped to make a difference in Madison County.

But these victories could very well be short-lived.

The medical malpractice reform law is currently being challenged in the Illinois Supreme Court. If the high court overturns these historic reforms, Illinois' healthcare system will undoubtedly be in crisis again.

In Madison County, the number of asbestos cases continues to climb. As of Aug. 27, there were 383 asbestos claims on the docket in Madison County, which means the number of claims this year will very likely exceed the 455 asbestos claims filed in 2007.

Is Madison County inching its way back to the dark days of 2003 when the county took on an astonishing 953 asbestos cases.

Maybe. Maybe not.

But there is no denying that the number of asbestos claims is trending upwards. In addition, about 92 percent of the plaintiffs in these claims do not even live in Madison County.

Illinois is the fifth worst state in the country for legal fairness, which means we have a long way to go before we can shed the state's reputation as the "Lawsuit Capital of the Midwest." We clearly cannot afford to take any steps backward.

The forthcoming Illinois Supreme Court ruling on the medical malpractice reform law and the increasing number of asbestos claims in Madison County are clear reminders of the need for Illinois citizens to continue to stand together to transform our sue-happy culture. Illinois needs more – not less – legal reform.

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