To the Editor:
The intentionally distorted and deceptively titled ‘Judicial Hellhole Report’ has been re-packaged and rolled out once again by the American Tort Reform Association as part of ATRA’s ongoing campaign to stoke prejudice, fear and warp public understanding of our legal system.
ATRA is a major, well-funded front group working to undermine the civil justice system in order to help corporate interests avoid responsibility for their dangerous behavior and reckless actions. ATRA has received financial backing from a ‘who’s who’ of industry giants, including tobacco, oil, insurance and health care companies. These entities have repeatedly been found negligent by the courts or have been sanctioned by the government and safety organizations because of their harmful conduct. To further boost record profits and executive pay, they are determined to block citizens from accessing the courts that their tax dollars fund.
Contrary to popular myth, very few individual Americans file lawsuits. In Illinois, more than 70 percent of lawsuits are filed by businesses suing businesses or individuals for money. The number of all civil cases in Illinois courts is down 26 percent since 2007. Additionally, the number of medical malpractice cases brought in our state has steadily declined over the past decade; it’s fallen nearly 40 percent since 2003.
Illinois courts are fair and they provide an avenue for victims of wrongdoing to hold perpetrators accountable. Our legal system serves as a powerful deterrent against corporate misconduct, and that’s precisely why ATRA is so determined to shut down the ability of individuals to seek justice from the courts. ATRA’s funders do not truly fear frivolous lawsuits; they know our justice system screens out the very few suits that are without merit long before they get to trial. What actually concerns them are meritorious lawsuits – actions brought by citizens against industries producing dangerous products, putting reckless truck drivers on the roads, polluting our air and water, swindling their employees to pad their profits, or otherwise acting irresponsibly.
The real ‘judicial hellhole’ that ATRA and its financial backers wish to create is one that Illinoisans will not tolerate: a court system in which regular citizens have little chance for justice or even fair treatment because their rights have been stripped away by politicians and courts aligned with powerful corporate special interests. Cheap publicity stunts, like top 10 lists of purported ‘judicial hellholes’ concocted by paid lobbyists and shills, demean the US Constitution, the Seventh Amendment’s guarantee of trial by jury in civil matters involving monetary damages, and the lives and futures of catastrophically injured people.
We oppose efforts that make it possible for corporations to evade their legal responsibilities, particularly when they are grossly negligent, and we will fight attempts to weaken basic legal protections that stack the deck against the men, women and children who rely on our civil justice system to hold wrongdoers accountable. This so-called ‘report’ is nothing more than propaganda designed to further ATRA’s odious mission to pass legislation that restricts individuals’ abilities to exercise the rights that millions of Americans have fought for and died to protect.
John Cooney, President
Illinois Trial Lawyers Association