Lawsuit abuse is not one of state's problems

By The Madison County Record | Jul 23, 2014

To the Editor:

Illinois has its share of problems, but so-called “lawsuit abuse” is not one of them. When front groups for big business spin bogus studies layered with false and distorted claims about our state’s civil justice system, remember their prevailing aim: maximizing profit.

Special interest groups serving the likes of tobacco, big oil, insurance and pharmaceutical companies, among others, spend millions every year on PR campaigns to demonize our civil justice system by spreading the fiction that lawsuits are responsible for keeping business away and our unemployment numbers high.

But the truth is these behemoth corporations are not concerned about “junk lawsuits;” they know that our courts, by design, screen out the very few suits without merit. What they truly fear are meritorious actions – those brought by citizens against entities injuring people, producing unsafe products, polluting our environment, swindling the public, or otherwise acting irresponsibly.

They promote gloom and doom studies and work feverishly to undermine our civil justice system – all in an effort to deny citizens’ access to the courts that their own tax dollars fund.

The fact is the filing of civil lawsuits in Illinois has steadily declined since 2007 – the number is down nearly 25 percent – but making note of that does not support their objective. Nor do statistics showing injury lawsuits make up just 6 percent of all civil cases filed in state courts. Indeed, businesses and insurance company supporters initiate most civil litigation; nearly 70 percent of civil cases involve businesses suing other businesses or individuals for money.

Our state’s economic recovery has not been nearly as brisk as all of us would have hoped, but 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 – 33 of the nation’s largest companies on the Fortune 500 list are located in Illinois.

A survey done by Career Builder shows that Illinois ranks third in the nation for net growth in private sector businesses from 2009 to 2012 and that our state accounted for 14 percent of all net new establishments in the United States.

There is a reason that the "lawsuit reforms" proposed by these paid insurance lobbyists have been rejected by both lawmakers and Illinois' citizens. It’s because any so-called “reforms” take away our constitutionally protected rights.

Our civil justice system is essential to holding reckless drivers, polluters, careless professionals and negligent companies responsible for the injuries they cause. It provides a level playing field for all of us, even when taking on the most powerful corporate interests.

The “profits before people” mentality of these corporate front groups cannot be allowed to diminish the rights of citizens who deserve a level playing field in our courts.

John D. Cooney

President of the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association.

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