With their sights set on ending lawsuit abuse in the Land of Lincoln, a grassroots campaign is planting seeds of reform across the prairie state.
"Honest Abe Would be Ashamed: The Land of Lincoln Has Become the Land of Lawsuits," proclaims an ad sponsored by the Illinois Chamber of Commerce, U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform and the Illinois Civil Justice League.
"We feel that the more attention focused on the issue, the more likely reform will happen," said Ed Murnane, president of the Illinois Civil Justice League. "Illinois has a terrible legal environment."
Murnane, who is promoting passage of a legal venue reform bill in the Illinois legislature, said town hall meetings and print and radio ads are aimed at getting the public involved. Town Hall meetings were planned in Peoria and Peru this week.
"It's an opportunity to bring people together with legislators," he said. "We encourage readers and listeners to contact their legislators to support legislation to eliminate or stop venue shopping."
An advertisement, like the one that appeared in The Record last week, takes issue with lawyers who seek out plaintiff-friendly venues, such as Madison, St. Clair and Cook counties.
"Predatory trial lawyers flock to Illinois looking for friendly judges and the personal riches that quick settlements bring," states the ad. "This court shopping by unscrupulous trial lawyers in places like Madison, Cook and St. Clair counties is a big part of lawsuit abuse and it's got to stop."
A "Land of Lawsuits" website also has been established reminding viewers that Illinois' reputation for anti-business courts hurts the state's economy.
"Illinois is now ranked one of the worst states in the country for lawsuit abuse. This poor reputation hurts our ability to attract new employers and business investment – that means fewer Illinois jobs and stagnant wages. And lawsuits cost the average Illinois family more than $3,300 a year in higher prices, higher insurance rates and skyrocketing health care costs.
"The Land of Lincoln truly has become the Land of Lawsuits. We need legal reform now!"
Murnane said venue reform legislation does not deprive anyone's right to file a lawsuit.
Sponsored by State Sen. Kirk Dillard (R-Hinsdale), SB1724 establishes guidelines on where a lawsuit can be filed. It provides that suits must be filed in the county where most of the defendants are located and in the county where the cause of action occurred.
"In theory this will not reduce the number of lawsuits filed," said Murnane.
"There ought to be a reason why (a plaintiff) is filing a case in any venue other than the plaintiff's attorney thinks he can get a good outcome," he said.
While he doesn't believe there is sufficient political muster for the bill's passage this session, Murnane remains hopeful that the issue will be kept alive.
Tort reform legislation was knocked off course last month when a "caps" bill was moved out of the Senate Judiciary Committee to the Senate Executive Committee without a promised vote. Had a vote occurred in the Judiciary, it likely would have passed and moved on to the full Senate.
"There hasn't been a great deal of reason to be positive," Murnane said. "I have heard that there may be hearings in the summer. They're saying no (to reform), but not really saying no.
"That gives more time to state the case."
The Madison County Record is owned by the Institute for Legal Reform, an affiliate of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.