McLean County continues inching closer to becoming a 'judicial hellhole'

Travis Akin Jul. 10, 2011, 11:00am


Illinois' reputation as a lawsuit magnet was not made overnight. It took time as hotspots such as Madison, St. Clair and Cook Counties became destination jurisdictions for personal injury lawyers looking to hit the "Lawsuit Lottery."

Madison, St. Clair and Cook Counties have long been fixtures in the annual "Judicial Hellhole" report and for years these three counties have appeared to be unwilling to share the spotlight for being some of the worst jurisdictions in the country for legal fairness.

Unfortunately for Illinois, the usual suspects have apparently added a new member to the gang. Last December, McLean County was cited in the American Tort Reform Association's annual Judicial Hellholes report as a jurisdiction to watch. The inclusion of McLean County in the report was intended to be a warning of what could happen should the situation in McLean County get any worse.

Sadly, the situation has indeed gotten worse.

Shortly after being cited in the report, a McLean County jury delivered an eye-opening $90 million judgment against Honeywell International Inc., Pneumo Abex, Owens-Illinois Inc. and John Crane Inc. when there was no evidence the plaintiff ever worked for these companies or was exposed to asbestos by any products made by the three companies.

In a recent asbestos case filed against Honeywell International Inc., McLean County Judge Paul Lawrence directed a verdict for the plaintiff before the defense even had a chance to say anything. A few days later, the jury awarded the plaintiff $4.3 million.

Judge Lawrence applied the conspiracy theory to the case even though neither the plaintiff nor her husband ever worked at Honeywell or were in any way ever connected to the company.

This is the equivalent of filing a lawsuit against Sears for something that happened 50 years ago at a J.C. Penney store.

In the past, Madison, St. Clair and Cook Counties have been at the center of Illinois' growing legal climate concerns. Now McLean County seems to be descending deeper and deeper into Hellhole status. The situation is not improving, rather, it is getting worse.

It does not take long to build a reputation as a lawsuit magnet but it takes a long time to shed that reputation. Just talk to the folks in Madison County.

The last thing our state needs right now is yet another Judicial Hellhole jurisdiction. The reality is that businesses look carefully at where to locate a business and the litigation climate is a significant factor in the decision making process. It is not the only factor, obviously but it certainly is something companies consider. Once a county develops a reputation as a magnet for lawsuits, it is difficult to recruit new business and opportunities. The last thing McLean County needs is a reputation of being a plaintiffs' paradise.

Lawmakers recently passed significant tax hikes into law and put Illinois communities at a competitive disadvantage in terms of attracting new businesses and opportunities. We simply cannot afford to add to our growing reputation as a state hostile to job growth and job creation by enshrining yet another Judicial Hellhole jurisdiction in Illinois.

McLean County, and all Illinois counties for that matter, should be working to create more jobs instead of creating a litigation climate that only serves to import lawsuits and drive jobs and opportunities away.

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