Settling lawsuits has made Chicago a big target for lawsuits and it is time for city officials to fight back

Travis Akin Aug. 14, 2011, 4:47pm


Everyone has a daily routine. For some it is reaching for an early morning cup of coffee. For others, it might be going for a daily jog. Whatever the routine is everyone has something they do to get their day started.

For the City of Chicago, part of the daily routine is getting a notification about a new lawsuit filed against City Hall. In the last three years, Chicago has been hit with 900 lawsuits, which means City government is sued virtually every single day.

It has become painfully clear that the City of Chicago is perceived as an easy mark by some personal injury lawyers and has earned a reputation not as "The City That Works" but as "The City That Settles."

Illinois Lawsuit Abuse Watch (I-LAW), a grassroots, legal watchdog group recently released a study and found that the City of Chicago's notoriety as a target for lawsuits has cost the City a budget-busting $85 million for litigation in 2010 alone – millions that could have gone to hiring more police officers or teachers or avoiding layoffs of city workers.

The tens of millions spent fighting and settling lawsuits filed against the City is money that would be better spent on more worthwhile services, many of which are now being cut due to the City's budget deficit. Had the City of Chicago's $85 million expenditure on litigation costs in 2010 been available for other, more worthwhile services and programs, the City would have been able to hire 1,239 police officers; pay for 1,226 teachers; hire 1,119 new public health nurses; or plant 155,801 trees.

As Mayor Rahm Emanuel looks for ways to cut waste from the City's budget and plug the deficit, why not follow the lead taken two years ago by the Chicago Police Department (CPD)? The Chicago Police Department announced in 2009 a new policy of fighting, and no longer quickly settling, lawsuits filed against CPD – an aggressive, common-sense strategy that has actually worked!

According to a report the CPD submitted to the Chicago City Council, the number of lawsuits filed against CPD dropped 50 percent from 2009 to 2010, and in lawsuits involving payouts under $100,000, the City's liability costs were reduced by more than $7 million.

The Police Department's decision to fight litigation has clearly helped save taxpayers money. Chicago could send a clear message to some personal injury lawyers and potential plaintiffs who are merely looking for 'jackpot justice' by demonstrating that lawsuits will be fought aggressively and not quickly settled. The longer the City fails to act on this important issue, the longer potential plaintiffs and aggressive personal injury lawyers will continue to target city taxpayers' pockets with frivolous lawsuits against the City.

The fact that the City of Chicago is sued so often should not be much of a surprise, because Cook County courts are notorious magnets for frivolous lawsuits and have a reputation as a "plaintiffs' paradise." A 2010 report from Harris Interactive ranked Cook County the worst local jurisdiction for legal fairness in the country. Cook County was also recently ranked as the nation's fifth-worst "Judicial Hellhole" in a 2010 report from the American Tort Reform Association.

To put the lawsuit numbers in Chicago in perspective, consider that the City of Naperville, which has a population of 141,853, spent $15,375 on judgments and settlements and outside counsel in 2010, while the City of Chicago, which has 18 times the population of Naperville, spent about 5,528 times what Naperville spent on litigation costs last year.

Businesses and individuals are targeted with harassing lawsuits all the time in Cook County courts, and the City of Chicago is clearly viewed as a deep-pocketed easy target. Certainly Mayor Rahm Emanuel should be applauded for aggressively trying to identify places where he can cut the budget, but with a new lawsuit coming in nearly each and every day on average, he should work quickly to shed the City's costly reputation as "The City That Settles."

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