MARION – An Illinois watchdog group that has championed the causes of litigation reform and ending lawsuit abuse doesn’t see a comprehensive state budget accord on the horizon anytime soon.
Travis Akin, who heads Illinois Lawsuit Abuse Watch, sees the most likely scenario as a series of piecemeal agreements or temporary solutions coming sometime after the state’s presidential primary election on Tuesday.
“I highly doubt a grand budget agreement anytime soon,” Akin told the Record.
He added that a lot of state agencies are on autopilot, although some parts of the state’s public sector, such as higher education, are not being funded.
According to Akin, tort reform to reduce the state’s litigation costs remains a key element to getting Illinois’s financial affairs in order and build a stronger business base. It's also a cornerstone of Gov. Bruce Rauner's budget proposal.
Akin pointed to a recent Harris poll that surveyed senior company attorneys nationwide and found that 75 percent of those surveyed agree that the litigation environment within a state helps determine whether or not a business will locate there or expand operations.
“Shouldn’t we be listening to those voices?” Akin asked. “There is not one economic problem that can’t be solved with the addition of more jobs."
He saluted Rauner for strongly backing lawsuit reform as part of an overall solution to revenue issues in Illinois, which has endured a nine-month budget impasse. Akin noted that other states, including Texas and Ohio, have already implemented reforms to make those states more attractive to businesses.
“Small business owners that I talk to don’t like business regulation and higher taxes,” Akin said.
But, he also said they can adjust their business models when there’s a “level playing field.” He emphasized that in the case of a lawsuit aimed at a specific business, the firm typically won’t know how much time the lawsuit will take to resolve. In turn, it’s difficult for firms to plan for such lawsuits, and the time the lawsuits take away from day-to-day business operations has a paralyzing effect, Akin explained.
Akin supports reforms that would end the practice of so-called "venue shopping," where lawyers file suits in local courts on behalf of plaintiffs who have no connection to the state.
One Madison County auditor’s report indicated that the county spent $1.2 million annually on litigation claims – money Akin and others say would be better spent on state needs such as roads and education.
“One of the things I’m working on is to identify lawsuit reform supporters and to build public pressure to get these reforms passed,” Akin told the Record.
He stressed that organization was the key to build public support for tort reform.