Madison, St. Clair, Cook counties drag Illinois down in legal poll

By Jeff Gelber | Mar 8, 2005

Thomas J. Donohue, U.S. Chamber president and CEO


State Sen. Kirk Dillard

Humphrey Taylor, chairman of the Harris Poll

Illinois Chamber President Doug Whitley

The U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform (ILR) released its Harris Interactive 2005 State Liability Systems Ranking Study, which shows Illinois ranked 46 in legal fairness, having dropped twelve places in the last three years.

"Illinois' legal system is badly flawed, is getting worse and needs to be fixed," said Thomas J. Donohue, Chamber president and CEO.

Survey respondents ranked three Illinois counties – Cook, Madison and St. Clair – among the fifteen worst local jurisdictions in the country for legal fairness.

"In Madison and St. Clair Counties, it's better not to go to court. (For business), it's the one place they don't want to go," Donohue said at a Chicago press conference.

The survey also revealed that an overwhelming 81 percent of respondents in the poll report that the litigation environment in a state could affect important business decisions, such as where to locate or do business. That statistic does not bode well for Illinois, a state that has seen the flight of an estimated 78,700 manufacturing jobs since November 2001.

"Companies simply don't locate where there's a lousy legal system," Donohue said. "It will only be a matter of time before Illinois is battling with the others to be fifty."

State Sen. Kirk Dillard (R-Hinsdale), who has introduced class action and venue reform legislation this spring, said the report comes as no surpise.

"It's disheartening," Dillard said. "(But) I'm not surprised. Businesses in my district tell me it's very difficult to survive."

The ILR/Harris Interactive survey of more than 1,400 senior corporate attorneys, now in its fourth year, is a standard by which companies, policymakers and the media judge the legal fairness of states.

"We're not surprised to see that states ranking low in this year's liability ranking report are also home to Judicial Hellholes," said American Tort Reform Association President Sherman Joyce. "However, states that have enacted meaningful civil justice reform are showing signs of improvement with business returning to those states and medical liability premiums going down or stabilizing."

The ILR also announced the launch of a national advertising campaign to highlight the results of the study and promote federal and state-based legal reform.

"Governor Blagojevich and the Illinois legislature should follow the example set by states like Mississippi and Texas that have passed comprehensive legal reforms to improve the business climate in their states," Donohue said.

"Employers are drawn to states with a fair and balanced legal system. A first step in attracting business investment would be for the governor and the legislature to pass legislation that would reform the state's outdated venue rules."

The 2005 State Liability Systems Ranking Study was conducted for the ILR among a national sample of in-house general counsel or other senior litigators and sought to explore how reasonable and fair the tort liability system is perceived to be by U.S. business.

This study was conducted between November 2004 and February 2005 with 1,437 senior corporate attorneys. Of those respondents, 80 were from insurance companies, with the remaining 1,357 interviews being conducted among public corporations.

The Madison County Record is owned by the Institute for Legal Reform, an affiliate of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Other findings related to Illinois include:

-Illinois ranks 46th in the 2005 ILR/Harris State Liability Systems Ranking Study, having dropped 12 places in three years. In 2004, Illinois ranked 44th; in 2003 it ranked 38th and in the poll's first year, Illinois was ranked 34th.

-Illinois ranks near the bottom on all key elements of state liability systems, as rated by survey respondents: Overall Treatment of Contract Litigation (45th), Treatment of Class Action Suits (45th), Punitive Damages (41st), Timeliness of Summary Judgment/Dismissal (45th), Discovery (45th), Scientific and Technical Evidence (45th), Judges' Impartiality (46th), Judges' Competence (46th), Juries' Predictability (45th), Juries' Fairness (46th).

-"About 25% of all asbestos cases nationwide in which the plaintiff suffers from mesothelioma are filed in Madison County. How is it that one small county in one state is home to one-quarter of all mesothelioma cases filed in the United States? Very few, if any, of these mesothelioma cases have any connection to either Madison County or Illinois." (Former U.S. Attorney General Griffin Bell, speech at Washington University Law School on April 14, 2003)

-Madison County has long been known as the nation's capital for class action lawsuits, with 217 class actions currently pending in Madison County. ("In defense of Madison County," Crain's Chicago Business, 2/28/05). In a rush to the courthouse prior to enactment of the Class Action Fairness Act, 34 class actions were filed in the first seven weeks of 2005 – thirteen on the day the bill was signed by President Bush. ("Frantic Friday in Madco," Madison County Record, 2/21/05). That is an enormous amount of class action lawsuits for a sparsely populated county like Madison County, which is home to only 250,000 people.

The Harris Poll

Humphrey Taylor has served as chairman of The Harris Poll, a service
of Harris Interactive, since 1994. He has had overall responsibility
for more than 8,000 surveys in 80 countries.

In 1966 Taylor founded his own company, Opinion Research Centre (ORC), of which he was chief executive officer from its foundation until 1976.

While in Britain, Taylor conducted all of the private political polling for the Conservative Party and was a close advisor to Prime Minister Edward Heath in the 1970 campaign and subsequently to Margaret Thatcher.

In 1970, Taylor's firm was acquired by Louis Harris and
Associates, and Taylor took responsibility for building the Harris
organization's international business. In 1976 he moved to New York. He was appointed president of Harris in 1981, chief executive officer in 1992 and chairman in 1994.

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