Many of us are aware that Illinois has earned a national reputation as a magnet and haven for junk lawsuits.
A recent survey ranked Illinois' civil justice system the sixth-worst in the country for legal fairness, and when President Bush was looking for an appropriate place to hold an event to begin his campaign to pass civil justice reform legislation last year, he naturally chose Illinois.
Clearly, our state is nationally known for lawsuit abuse and, in the eyes of many, Illinois has been transformed from the "Land of Lincoln" into the "Land of Lawsuits." And though it may not be immediately apparent, Illinois' status as the "Lawsuit Abuse Capital of the Midwest" is costing citizens plenty.
Even if you've never been sued, you still pay for lawsuit abuse. A Tillinghast study released earlier this year found that every person in Illinois pays a hidden "lawsuit tax" of nearly $900 per year because of frivolous, excessive litigation that plagues our nation's legal system.
Additionally, lawsuit abuse stifles economic development, drives up the cost of healthcare products and services, and can force a small business out of business.
Many people blame personal injury lawyers for the costly lawsuit abuse that is all too common in Illinois courts. A poll conducted by Illinois Lawsuit Abuse Watch found that more than two out of three Illinois residents surveyed believe that personal injury lawyer advertising encourages people to sue even if they have not been injured, and more than three out of four of those surveyed believe that personal injury lawyers who file healthcare lawsuits are more interested in making money than in helping patients.
And as much a role as personal injury lawyers play in lawsuit abuse, we should not overlook the impact of judges, either, who make decisions that affect our everyday lives. Judges have the power to maintain fairness in their courtrooms and send a message to overzealous personal injury lawyers that junk lawsuits are not welcome in our courts.
Therefore, it behooves us to pay close attention to whom we elect to the judiciary. In the general election on Tuesday, Nov. 7, voters owe it to themselves to be informed about their judicial candidates, just as many voters study up on candidates for governor and the General Assembly.
One excellent source for information on judges is the non-partisan website www.illinoisjudges.net.
Polls show Illinoisans care about the problems stemming from lawsuit abuse in our state. Fortunately, the upcoming election gives each of us an opportunity to do something to restore balance and common sense to Illinois courts.
Paul Scheeler is State Director of Illinois Lawsuit Abuse Watch. I-LAW is a non-partisan, grassroots watchdog group dedicated to educating the public about the negative effects of lawsuit abuse and its costs to Illinois workers, consumers, taxpayers and small businesses.