I-LAW 'reform rally' will push legislators to take up civil justice; Venue and joint civil liability reform are main focus

By Heather Isringhausen Gvillo | Apr 23, 2015

Illinois Lawsuit Abuse Watch will host its second "Rally for Lawsuit Reform" in an effort to create awareness and inform state legislators about the need for lawsuit reform in Illinois.

The rally will be held on April 29 at the state Capitol in Springfield.

As the first governor in more than a decade to embrace lawsuit reform, Gov. Bruce Rauner's administration has made the environment in Springfield much more welcoming compared to last year’s event, said I-LAW Executive Director Travis Akin.

“The most important take away here is that we want to communicate to lawmakers the importance of judicial reform,” Akin said.

Akin added that it is crucial for Illinois lawmakers to hear from “real" people concerned about the state’s clogged courtrooms, and the rally provides an opportunity for citizens to be heard.

“I think most people understand the issue, but I think what I want lawmakers to come away from this experience is to see first-hand why this issue is so important and why we need to change course in Illinois," he said. "I want them to hear from their constituents that lawsuits have to be a part of any business and economic reform or Illinois will continue to slip economically."

Akin said lawsuit reform is “a necessary ingredient” to turn lawsuit abuse around, but state leaders are ignoring the issues.

During the rally, those attending will push two main issues: venue reform and joint civil liability reform.

Regarding venue reform, Akin said the idea is to get a bill created that would prevent personal injury lawyers from filing lawsuits anywhere they choose, also known as "forum shopping." Akin said that forum shopping can be like “hitting the lawsuit lottery” for some lawyers.

He said personal injury lawyers are taking advantage of Illinois courts by clogging the courtrooms with claims that have nothing to do with the state.

Akin pointed to the asbestos dockets in Madison and St. Clair Counties as examples. Both counties have been named "Judicial Hellholes" largely due to the mass number of asbestos lawsuits filed, especially in Madison County – the largest asbestos docket in the nation.

Roughly 90 percent of the asbestos cases filed in Madison County are from out-of-state plaintiffs, while only 1 percent of the plaintiffs are actually from Madison County.

“Why should these cases be heard in Madison County?" he said. "How is that fair to Madison County tax payers and Madison County litigants?”

“We want to try to change the rules so that the civil cases that come through these troublesome jurisdictions like Madison County and St. Clair County have something to do with those respective jurisdictions,” he added.

As for joint civil liability reform, Akin said personal injury lawyers make specific parties pay for another person’s wrongdoing by targeting “deep pockets." In other words, if a big business or wealthy defendant is only 5 percent involved in the case, they may end up with 90 percent of the bill because they have more money than other defendants, he said.

“If there are other potential defendants in the lawsuit who are also at fault, then they should pay their fair share,” Akin said.

He stressed that the reform proposals are simply "all about fairness.”

Akin said Illinois has been moving in the wrong direction, and the Rally for Lawsuit Reform symbolizes an attempt at turning hings around.

“We can’t keep doing the same thing over and over again,” he said.

He stressed that lawsuit reform is the key to keeping businesses in Illinois and growing the struggling economy.

Without reform, he said, “We will see jobs lost and we will continue to move in the direction of total financial chaos and ruin."

Akin added that some small business owners are considering leaving Illinois because of concerns about their future here.

“We want more jobs in Illinois, not more lawsuits,” he said.

Rally activities will kick off with a press conference at 11 a.m. at the Capitol, supporting venue reform and joint civil liability reform.

Afterward, the group will meet with elected officials, urging them to pass “badly-needed” lawsuit reform bills.

A reception will be held from 5-7 p.m. with legislators and fellow supporters of lawsuit reform.

Akin said several supporters from Madison and St. Clair counties are expected to attend, including business owners, those involved in political parties and campaigns and concerned citizens who have all helped I-LAW in the past.

Lunch will be provided to all who wish to participate in the rally.

Those interested in attending may email Akin at takin@ILLawsuitAbuseWatch.org.

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