Survey: Madison County courts among the most unfair in the nation

By Chris Rizo | Mar 21, 2010


Madison County is one of the most unfair state court jurisdictions in the nation, a survey of top corporate lawyers and business executives indicates.

Statewide, Illinois ranked 45th in the nation for legal fairness, while Madison County was the fifth most unfair jurisdiction in the country, a Harris Interactive survey released today found.

Cook County was named as the single most unfair jurisdiction in the nation. The Harris survey, taken from October to January, was commissioned by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The Madison County Record is owned by the Institute for Legal Reform, an affiliate of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

The survey asked 1,482 corporate lawyers and executives about various aspects of states' legal systems, including venue requirements, discovery, damage awards, jury fairness and judges' competence.

Illinois ranked among the bottom in all of the categories. Of the 1,482 corporate lawyers and executives surveyed this year, more than two-thirds said a state's legal environment is a key factor in making strategic business decisions at their company, such as where to expand or locate.

"Home to two of the most notorious jackpot jurisdictions in America and known for imposing expansive liability, Illinois has rolled out an 'unwelcome mat' to business," said Lisa Rickard, president of the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform. "Illinois needs more jobs, not more lawsuits. Yet, even with an unemployment rate higher than the national average, the state's anti-business legal climate discourages economic growth at a time when it needs it most."

Nationally, Delaware continues to have the best legal climate in the United States, while West Virginia still holds the distinction of having the most anti-business courts in the nation.

Other states with the most favorable legal environments were North Dakota, Nebraska, Indiana, and Iowa. At the bottom of the list, along with West Virginia is California, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana.

Delaware has been ranked No. 1 in the annual survey for the past seven years, while West Virginia has placed dead last for four years.

Of survey respondents, 56 percent said they believe the fairness and reasonableness of state court liability systems in America is fair or poor, while 44 percent said they saw the system as excellent or pretty good.

The survey's margin of sampling error is plus or minus 2.5 percentage points. The study was conducted by New York-based Harris Interactive.

Highlighting how lawsuits cost local businesses, the Institute for Legal Reform announced Monday that it was starting a new national advertising campaign. The effort, dubbed "Jobs, Not Lawsuits," will include two-minute movie trailers on more than 300 movie screens around the country.

One of the spots features the story of Basketball Town, which was forced to close its doors in Sacramento, Calif., because of legal bills related to a lawsuit.

In 2007, the facility was sued by a man who attended a birthday party there with his nephew. The man filed a disability access lawsuit because the area where the birthday party was held was not wheelchair accessible.

"The silver screen is the perfect place to tell these true stories of businesses that have been victimized by an unfair legal system," Rickard said. "We want people to see the real life consequences of these lawsuits."

For the State Liability Systems Ranking Study, Harris Interactive surveyed general counsels and senior attorneys or executives in companies with annual revenues of at least $100 million. Respondents were asked to rank how states treat tort, contract and class action litigation. They were also asked about judges' competence and how fair juries are in the states.

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