While lawsuit reform proposals are not likely to get much attention in an unsympathetic Illinois state legislature, the executive director of Illinois Lawsuit Abuse Watch says citizen action is needed to pressure lawmakers into action.
“Just like with the medical malpractice fight, citizen action got lawmakers to enact reform,” Akin said.
He said some reluctant lawmakers might have been “kicking and screaming” on their way to vote in 2005, but they did so due to public pressure. That law, which capped "pain and suffering" non-economic damages in medical malpractice lawsuits at $500,000, was later overturned by the Illinois Supreme Court. However, the grassroots effort that gave the cause momentum sprang forth from the Metro East area.
Akin was in Fairview Heights Thursday to roll out a “Small Business Summer” tour that touches on problems faced by the entrepreneurial sector of the economy. The tour is an effort to raise awareness about how lawsuit abuse hurts small businesses and how lawsuit abuse ultimately hurts the Illinois economy.
He said that small businesses can face financial ruin if they become targets of abusive litigation.
“Small businesses don’t always have the resources to defend (lawsuits),” Akin said. “They can be particularly vulnerable.”
The event drew 20 people, Akin said, and focused on how lawsuit abuse drives jobs and opportunities to other states. It also touched on ways individuals can stop lawsuit abuse such as serving on juries, taking personal responsibility, being “smart” legal consumers, urging legislators to pass reforms and to oppose personal injury lawyer-backed legislation.
Akin has repeatedly stated that there is a correlation between the jobs climate and the legal climate.
He pointed to surrounding states Wisconsin and Indiana which have made lawsuit reform a priority, and have enjoyed budget surpluses in the wake. Akin said Wisconsin has cut taxes by more than $500 million and Indiana has cut the state’s individual tax rate.
“By implementing lawsuit reforms and creating a climate for job growth and job creation, surrounding states are in a position to cut taxes,”Akin said.
He also cited a recent Gallup survey, which indicated that half of all Illinoisans would leave the state if they could.
“This would explain why in the last few years, 40 Illinois companies have moved all or part of their operations to Indiana, which has produced more than 3,600 new jobs in Indiana,” he cited from the Gallup report. “To put this number into perspective, Illinois lost 6,800 jobs just last month alone. Illinois could use the 3,600 jobs Illinois employers have hired in Indiana.”
One of Akin’s critics, Stephen D. Phillips, president of the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association, said in a recent statement to the Record that “there is absolutely no correlation between the business climate in Illinois and lawsuits.”
"Instead, he (Akin) demonizes our civil justice system and spreads false claims that lawsuits are responsible for keeping business away and our unemployment numbers high,” Phillips stated.
Phillips also stated, among other things:
“The number of civil lawsuits filed in Illinois has steadily declined since 2007, down nearly 25p percent. Published statistics show injury lawsuits make up just 6 percent of all civil cases filed in state courts. Indeed, about 70 percent of civil litigation involves businesses suing other businesses or individuals over business disputes. His big industry and insurance company supporters systematically file lawsuits when it suits their own needs.
“Business is thriving in Illinois and corporate profits are at record highs, even though many workers are not receiving their fair share of the growth they are helping create. Just look at the number of major corporations that call this state home – 32 of the nation’s largest companies on the Fortune 500 list are located in Illinois, and that includes State Farm Insurance and Allstate. According to the Department of Insurance, there are 360 companies fighting one another to collect premiums and write automobile insurance policies here. It sure sounds like Illinois is a huge insurance profit center if 360 automobile insurers are all competing to collect premium dollars.”