Civil court filings declined by approximately 25 percent in Illinois between 2010 and 2014, according to the Illinois Supreme Court's most recent annual report.
And while statistics from Madison and St. Clair counties reflect the overall statewide decline in civil lawsuit filings, they defy a statewide downward trend with respect to Law (L) Division cases, ones in which plaintiffs seek in excess of $50,000 in damages.
In Madison County, which is host to the nation's busiest asbestos docket, the number of L cases filed in 2014 was up 38 percent from the number filed in 2010.
In 2010, there were 1,292 L cases filed in Madison County; and in 2014, there were 1,787. Those totals include asbestos suits as well as a wide range of personal injury, wrongful death and other major civil cases.
In St. Clair County, the number of L cases filed was up 8 percent, from 681 filed in 2010 to 830 in 2014.
By contrast, the number of L cases statewide dropped by about 8 percent over that same period. In 2010, there were 33,614 L cases filed in Illinois; in 2014, there were 30,980.
In looking at the total number of civil filings in these divisions of circuit court - arbitration, chancery, eminent domain, law, law magistrate, miscellaneous remedy and small claims - Madison County's numbers decreased by 15 percent from 2010 to 2014. In St. Clair County, the decrease in that same period was 26 percent.
The biggest declines in civil filings from 2010 to 2014 can be seen in chancery court - where foreclosure actions are filed - as well as in arbitration and small claims.
Here is a sample of the numbers by county and division:
Small Claims: 5,374
Small Claims: 4,427
Small Claims: 4,622
Small Claims: 4,091
Small Claims: 4,424
St. Clair County:
Small Claims: 5,119
Small Claims: 3,871
Small Claims: 3,524
Small Claims: 3,599
Small Claims: 2,368
Figures for both counties in 2015 also show a general decline.
In Madison County last year, there were about 21 percent fewer total civil cases filed than there were in 2010. Also, there were fewer L cases filed in 2015 than there were in 2014, but only by approximately 5 percent - from 1,787 in 2014 to 1,698 in 2015.
In St. Clair County last year, there were about 26 percent fewer total civil cases filed than there were in 2010. There were fewer L cases filed in 2015 than there were in 2014 by about 12 percent - from 830 in 2014 to 733 in 2015.
The Illinois Bar Journal reports on the downward trend of civil filings in the state in its March edition.
The report, written by Matthew Hector, states that a possible reason for the decline is "that non-contract claims make up less of the total than they used to."
Hector quotes findings from the Illinois Trial Lawyers' Association (ITLA), that indicate medical malpractice lawsuits in the state are down 43 percent since 2003. In addition, ITLA says that contract cases represent 64 percent of civil case filings nationwide, Hector reports.
He also quotes Chicago attorney Joseph A. Power, Jr., a former president of ITLA, who observed that the perception that "many or most" civil suits are personal injury is "inaccurate."
In the article, Power points to a RAND Institute study that shows that 1.3 percent of all civil cases are personal injury.
While not all Law Division cases seek damages for bodily injury, they are considered major civil cases because they seek in excess of $50,000 in compensation.
Figures in Madison County show that in 2015, nearly 20 percent (1,698) of all civil cases (8,505) were L cases - ones that include personal injury, but which were predominantly asbestos cases.
In St. Clair County, approximately 8 percent of the total civil case filings in 2015 (8,807) were L cases (733).