Study shows high cost of lawsuits in Cook County

Amelia Flood Nov. 12, 2009, 8:00am


A lawsuit watchdog group has released a study showing Cook County spends nearly $70 million a year in litigation costs.

That money, the head of the group says, means it may cost people more to live and do business in the state's most populous county.

The study by the Illinois Lawsuit Abuse Watch (I-LAW) "Cook County: Lawsuit Tax Capital of the World," was released Oct. 28. The information analyzed in the report was gleaned from various government Web sites as well as the reports of the Cook County Finance Sub-Committee from the 2005 to 2008 fiscal years.

"It's our contention," I-LAW executive director Travis Akin said of the report, "that one of the reasons that Cook County has such a high tax rate ... is that they do nothing to address the legal climate."

Cook County ranks as the country's third worst "Judicial Hell Hole," according to the American Tort Reform Association.

The county passed a sales tax increase last year bringing it to 10.25 percent, one of the highest in the country.

In the I-LAW report, the group cites numerous examples of "frivolous" lawsuits that Cook County has been forced to defend. It also compares how much the county spends in that litigation versus Illinois' second most populous county – DuPage- and larger Los Angeles County in California.

The group picked neighboring DuPage County to demonstrate how Cook stacked up in Illinois. However, because Cook is the largest county in Illinois, the group had to look outside the state for a bigger county to compare it to. Los Angeles County was chosen because of the availability of data on its government Web sites, Akin said.

The analysis in the report shows the Cook County's legal expenses are twice as high as Los Angeles' even though the latter is larger.

Cook County's costs have gone up each of the last three years, according to the report, fom $46 million in 2006 to last year's $69 million. The report does not include data from 2009.

In terms of settlements, Cook County paid out nearly $50 million last year, whereas DuPage County paid out just under $68,000. The resulting tax increases that help pay for the rising litigation costs, Akin said in an interview Thursday, mean that outlying communities in Cook County lose business and residents to neighboring collar counties with lower tax rates.

"Whether it is cartoonish lawsuits involving banana peels or large dollar settlements, Cook County has built a reputation as the County that Pays," the report reads. "The longer Cook County officials ignore the county's lawsuit problem, the bigger the problem will become."

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