To the Editor:
Illinois has its share of problems, as all states do, but so-called “lawsuit abuse” is not one of them. Upending the state’s civil justice systems to bolster the profits of big business and the insurance industry will not aid in balancing the state budget or help grow the Illinois economy. It only will shift the burden of caring for the injured from the companies that caused the harm onto the taxpayers – both individuals and other businesses.
I-LAW, the organizer of today’s (April 6) Capitol rally is a front group for wealthy special interests and massive corporations committed to minimizing the chance they might ever be held accountable for negligent or willful actions that harm or kill innocent people. The group specializes in sowing confusion and demonizing our civil justice system on behalf of its generous benefactors.
Today’s event should be recognized for what it is: a deplorable call to strip middle and lower-income Illinoisans of their constitutional right to access the courts their tax dollars fund. The organization’s goal is to distort public understanding of our courts and scare citizens into giving up their constitutional right to hold dangerous drivers, polluters, careless professionals, and companies that cut corners responsible for the damages they cause to others.
Eroding the constitutional rights of citizens to access our civil justice system would send the message that it is mainly for the use of corporate actors and the wealthy, rather than something that belongs to everyone, regardless of their means. The first, logical step towards fixing our state’s economy should be for legislators and the governor to enact a budget – not erode fundamental rights of individuals.
Civil Lawsuit Filings Are Down
More than 60 percent of court actions in Illinois are initiated by businesses suing other businesses or individuals for money. Since 2010, the number of all civil cases in Illinois courts is down 33 percent. As for medical malpractice cases, the number filed in Illinois has steadily declined for more than a decade; it’s fallen nearly 40 percent since 2003.
Trial lawyers fight to ensure all citizens get equal footing in the courtroom, even when taking on the most powerful interests. We see to it that those who harm consumers, other individuals, or even their own employees, are held accountable. The efforts of our clients to face down corporations, insurance companies, health care providers, and other entities – and speak in the only terms they understand, which are financial – play an important role in promoting and incentivizing product, consumer and worker safety.
I-LAW donors don’t truly fear so-called frivolous lawsuits precisely because they know our justice system filters out cases without merit. What they fear are meritorious lawsuits – actions brought by citizens against those putting others’ children or loved ones at risk of injury or death. The real “judicial hellhole” is the one that I-LAW wishes to create: a court system that strips away the hard-won rights of ordinary citizens and precludes any chance for them to achieve fair treatment and justice from the courts.
The myth that Illinois’ legal climate is an impediment to business
Illinois offers a “healthy economy, major industries and high quality of life to residents and business,” according to “Illinois: The State of Innovation,” a digital magazine published last year by Gov. Bruce Rauner’s Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity. Among the highlights, according to that report: “Illinois has developed a thriving $720.7 billion economy and is a leader in industries such as clean energy, information technology, life sciences, advanced manufacturing and financial services.”
DCEO’s own homepage is packed with positive headlines about this state’s business climate and workforce.
For the third year in a row, Site Selection magazine this spring named Chicago the top metro area in the country. In the same study, Illinois ranked third nationwide in the number of capital investment projects in 2015 and fourth in the number of projects per capita – well ahead, in both categories, of Indiana and Wisconsin. This would hardly be the case if Illinois actually were the so-called “Land of Lawsuits.”
And in January, a study by the National Federation of Independent Business put “taxes and regulations and red tape” and “difficulty of finding qualified workers” as the top issues facing small businesses. In fact, the word “lawsuit” does not even appear in its report; a previous NFIB survey ranked the threat of a lawsuit as 71st on a list of the 75 chief concerns for its members.
Today, Illinois’ pension crisis and lack of state budget are of far greater significance for businesses looking to locate or expand here. The University of Illinois Flash Index, a weighted average of Illinois growth rates in corporate earnings, consumer spending and personal income, recently pointed to the “political showdown over the budget” as a factor that could be harming the Illinois economy. It also has noted the state’s “slowdown is consistent with data showing a national slowing economy.”
Perry J. Browder, President
Illinois Trial Lawyers Association