Lawmakers punt on lawsuit reform, again

Travis Akin Jun. 7, 2009, 4:32am


When lawmakers recently left Springfield at the end of the legislative session, they did so with a great deal of unfinished business on the table.

The state's multi-billion dollar budget deficit still needs to be fixed, a statewide capital construction plan remains unresolved and ethics reforms are incomplete, at best.

Rather than making tough decisions, it appears legislators have decided to punt the ball downfield and deal with these critical issues later. Unfortunately, this is the same approach lawmakers once again have taken towards passing common sense lawsuit reforms, a move that would have served as a jobs stimulus package at a time when Illinois is losing jobs by the tens of thousands.

Instead of having a reputation as a state that is friendly to job creation, Illinois has a national reputation as a state that is friendly to lawsuit creation. Illinois' notoriously plaintiff-friendly courts have long served as magnets for out-of-state personal injury lawyers who flock here to file their junk lawsuits even when those lawsuits have little or nothing to do with Illinois.

Companies look to create jobs where the legal climate is fair, but according to a recent report from the respected Harris polling company, Illinois ranks 46th out of 50 states for legal fairness. Why would companies want to set up shop in a state ranked the fifth-worst in the country for lawsuit abuse and make themselves targets for abusive lawsuits?

Cleary, Illinois' status as the "Lawsuit Abuse Capital of the Midwest" is costing our state dearly, which is why it was so important for lawmakers to pass common sense lawsuit reform legislation such as a measure to establish reasonable guidelines for where a lawsuit can be filed. Venue reform legislation would go a long way toward stopping out-of-state personal injury lawyers from targeting our state as place to strike it rich with their junk lawsuits.

A venue reform bill introduced this session did receive a hearing from a joint House-Senate committee, but legislators decided to put off taking any action on the bill until a later date, likely next year. Unfortunately, this inaction comes during a severe recession when a lawsuit reform bill could have served as an immediate and tax-free economic stimulus. Lawsuit reform can help keep jobs here, much like the medical malpractice reforms passed a few years ago successfully helped to attract and retain doctors who had been fleeing the state in droves due to Illinois' lawsuit-happy climate.

The legislative hearing for the venue reform bill was a positive first step, but the time is long overdue for talk to turn into action. Legislators missed a golden opportunity this spring to clean up Illinois' lawsuit mess and jumpstart our state's economy, and voters undoubtedly will be asking why when election season rolls around next year.

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