At one time Madison County was dubbed the nation's premier "judicial hellhole."
As such, Madison County's reputation once garnered headlines all across the country. In fact, President George W. Bush even used Madison County as a backdrop to discuss legal reform.
But thanks to the grassroots efforts of citizens all across the state, the litigation climate began to improve. For the last two years, Madison County has been downgraded from the American Tort Reform Association's "Judicial Hellholes" list to the group's "watch list."
I have and will continue to be very vocal in my praise for the positive trends in Madison County. Certainly the litigation climate is not as bad as it used to be, but with all of the emphasis on the positive signs in Madison County, it has become increasingly easy to forget that problems still do exist.
In reality, the number of lawsuits filed in Madison County is four times higher than 100 counties in Illinois. There are only 102 counties in the entire state.
Asbestos cases have been on the rise over the last three years. In fact, asbestos cases are 135 times more likely to be filed in Madison County than Cook County, which is currently ranked the nation's third worst "Judicial Hellhole." Furthermore, the vast majority of asbestos cases filed in Madison County have little or nothing to do with Madison County.
Madison County also continues to be a breeding ground for excessive and often times frivolous litigation. Take the recent lawsuit a man filed after returning an ignition lock cylinder he purchased at an O'Reilly Auto Parts store. He bought the part at a store in Alton and returned it to a different store in Godfrey. The man was shorted 58 cents because the sales tax in Godfrey is lower than the sales tax in Alton.
Rather than drive less than six miles to Alton to return the item, this man has decided to become the lead plaintiff in a putative class action lawsuit.
Yes, Madison County is home to a class action lawsuit involving a dispute concerning 58 cents. It costs far more than 58 cents just to file a lawsuit in Madison County, but then again this case is not really about 58 cents. It is about the windfall profits the plaintiffs' lawyers stand to make if they are successful in their case.
If the 58 cents were so important, the man could have driven six miles and received a refund for the full amount he paid.
Lawsuits like this are a reminder that all is not well in Madison County. The legal climate has come a long way in recent years, but the truth is lawsuit abuse is still a way of life in Madison County.
Illinois residents can ill afford for Madison County to return to its status as the nation's worst local court jurisdiction. Madison County changed because citizens stood up and demanded change. We need Illinois residents from all across the state to bring common sense back to not only Madison County, but other court jurisdictions.
If we do not stand up now, all of the progress we have made in Madison County will be lost.