Local personal injury lawyers scoffed last December when McLean County was named as a "jurisdiction to watch" in the American Tort Reform Association's annual report on the country's "Judicial Hellholes."
Three other counties in Illinois – Cook, Madison and St. Clair – have national reputations as lawsuit magnets and have continually made the "judicial hellholes" list over the past decade. But the people who put together the "judicial hellholes' report must be pretty prescient because just three months after being placed on the report's "watch list," McClean County just delivered an eye-opening $90 million verdict that people all across the country are certainly now watching.
Last week, a McLean County jury returned a verdict totaling $90 million against Honeywell International Inc., Pneumo Abex, Owens-Illinois Inc. and John Crane Inc. The verdict is believed to be the second-highest mesothelioma verdict of all time.
Honeywell International Inc., Pneumo Abex, Owens-Illinois Inc. are required to pay millions as a result of this verdict and yet there was no evidence the plaintiff ever worked for these companies or was exposed to asbestos by any products made by the three companies.
If these companies contributed directly to the plaintiff's exposure to asbestos, then by all means, the companies should be required to make the plaintiff whole.
The plaintiff admitted these companies were not responsible for his exposure to asbestos and yet a McLean County jury found a way to hold these companies responsible.
These companies are being compelled to pay millions of dollars for an asbestos exposure that did not involve any of the products they make. How can we hope to attract new businesses to the State of Illinois when our judicial system seeks to hold businesses accountable for injuries their products did not cause?
The hostile litigation climate in Illinois is a growing concern. Illinois is already home to four court jurisdictions named in the annual "Judicial Hellholes" report and is ranked 45th out of 50 states for legal fairness.
Personal injury lawyers want to pretend that a hostile litigation climate has nothing to with a company's decision of where to locate a business. The reality is businesses look carefully at where to locate a business and the litigation climate is a significant factor in the decision making process.
When businesses look at what has happened in McLean County, they will think twice about locating here. Companies look to locate their businesses where the legal system is fair, so we shouldn't expect a business to relocate to a place known widely as a "judicial hellhole."
If we want to bring jobs and opportunities back to Illinois, then we must make improving Illinois' legal climate a priority. We simply cannot afford to keep adding to our growing reputation as plaintiffs' paradise. It is time to restore fairness, balance and common sense to our courts.