Madison and St. Clair County governments spent a combined $3.1 million dollars defending against lawsuits in 2010, according to a study released today from Illinois Lawsuit Abuse Watch (I-LAW).
The study, titled "Down the Drain: How Abusive Lawsuits in the Metro-East Drain Municipal Budgets, Force Service Cuts and Suppress Job Growth," also found that the City of Alton spent a total of $1.9 million on settlements, judgments and outside counsel from 2005-2010. The City of Belleville spent more than $792,000 from 2005-2010 on litigation expenses, the report says.
"It has become painfully clear that Metro-East governments are perceived as easy marks by some personal injury lawyers," said I-LAW Executive Director Travis Akin in a press release.
"As a result, millions of dollars of taxpayers' money is being drained away from already-squeezed municipal budgets, forcing budget cuts that affect us all."
Illinois Trial Lawyers Association President Jerry Latherow debunked the study, saying it lacks factual data.
"This is just another bogus study done by an anti-consumer group – that is basically an attack on personal injury attorneys and judges," Latherow stated in an email to the Record. "This group is clearly gearing up for the 2012 elections with this report claiming the courts have run amok in Madison and St. Clair Counties and that 'good judges' are needed to bring an end to 'abusive lawsuits.'"
Latherow said details that would corroborate the study's hypothesis are not provided.
"[I]nstead very limited information was twisted to fit their bias," Latherow stated. "The group who produced this study has distorted the facts to create a PR stunt in an effort to paint an unfair and inaccurate picture of the courts in Madison and St. Clair counties."
Akin said his county figures came from Auditor offices.
Information from Madison County was available online and indicated that close to $2 million was spent in 2010 on tort expenses.
In St. Clair County, Akin said he was required to file a Freedom of Information Act request to get his figures, which resulted in lists of outside legal counsel expenditures and settlements. Approximately $1.1 million was expended in St. Clair County in 2010 on torr-related expenses, Akin said.
He said the information he obtained from both counties did not denote what types of lawsuits were involved in the expenditures.
I-LAW is a watchdog group composed of citizens, community leaders and small businesses which seeks to educate the public about costs of lawsuit abuse.
The report concludes that litigation expenses end up draining budgets for vital public services.
The study cites layoffs within the St. Clair County Sheriff's Department last December and announced plans to cut free rides for seniors on mass transit in Madison County as recent examples.
"If state and federal funding for municipalities continues to decrease, then clearly the municipalities will have to either cut valued services or raise taxes," the report states.
"Without a doubt, times are tough for local governments right now, the report states. "Communities have no choice but to look for ways to cut costs, and as a result, they should take seriously the amount of money being spent on litigation-related expenses."
I-LAW recommends local governments stop settling so many lawsuits and encourages local judges to stop tolerating lawsuit abuse.
"All too often, a municipality will decide that it's cheaper to settle a lawsuit than to fight it, but this leads potential plaintiffs to view that municipality as an easy mark, and the result is even more lawsuits filed against that government," Akin said.