Legal reform supporters gathered in Springfield today to lobby legislators in support of Gov. Bruce Rauner's proposal to stop "venue shopping."
Illinois Lawsuit Abuse Watch (I-LAW) organized the “Rally for Lawsuit Reform” event, which was attended by small business owners and "concerned citizens," according to the group's executive director Travis Akin.
He said the event began with a meeting with Rauner to tell him personally why supporters were behind his proposed lawsuit reforms and "to encourage him to keep fighting for these reforms in the face of intense opposition from the personal injury lawyers’ lobby."
As part of his Turnaround Agenda, Rauner has proposed venue reform that would put an end to a practice employed by attorneys who file suit in perceived "friendly" courts on behalf of clients with injuries that have no connection to the jurisdiction.
Akin said that he was joined by other lawsuit reform supporters and members of the General Assembly at a press conference following the rally.
John Pastuovic, president of the Illinois Civil Justice League (ICJL), pointed to a study conducted by the ICJL that shows how significantly Madison County is targeted with personal injury claims.
Its report, titled “Litigation Imbalance III,” shows lawsuit filings in Madison County average 8.255 per thousand persons, which is double the rate of Cook County; triple the rate of St. Clair County; and six and a half times the rate of the other 99 counties in Illinois combined.
The reason for Madison County's high per capita lawsuit filings is due to the court's asbestos docket - the busiest asbestos court in the country. Madison County handles more than one-third of all asbestos-related cases filed in the entire United States each year, and last year, less than one half of 1 percent of the asbestos lawsuits in Madison County were filed on behalf of Madison County residents.
In the press release, Pastuovic stated that job creation is the solution "for nearly every other major issue facing Illinois today."
“Unfortunately, the data detailed in our study, as well as the findings in other national studies, have made small, medium and large companies justifiably gun shy about our state," he stated. "Businesses cannot and will not reinvest in Illinois until these established, deep-rooted and documented problems are addressed once and for all.”
Before today's lawsuit reform rally took place, the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association issued a release blasting I-LAW for "sowing confusion and demonizing our civil justice system."
"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," wrote ITLA president Perry Browder. "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."
Browder, an asbestos attorney and partner at the Simmons firm of Alton, said the state of Illinois "has its share of problems, as all states do, but so-called 'lawsuit abuse' is not one of them." His full commentary can be read here.
One of the nation's most outspoken tort reform advocates, Sherman Joyce, president of the American Tort Reform Association, was quoted in the I-LAW press release saying that other states have used common sense lawsuit reforms as a way to attract jobs to their states.
“Look at what is going on in Wisconsin, Ohio and even West Virginia,” Joyce stated. “They are creating jobs, shoring up budget deficits and getting their finances in order. It all started with lawsuit reforms. The record is clear: common sense lawsuit reforms create jobs. Illinois has an unfortunate national reputation as a state that creates lawsuits, which is clearly driving away employers and keeping new ones from moving to Illinois.”
State Rep. Dwight Kay (R-Glen Carbon) also commented on the value of creating a fair legal climate in order to attract businesses to the state.
“The reality is companies look to move to states where the legal climate is fair, which is why Illinois’ status as the lawsuit abuse capital of the midwest is making it extremely difficult to attract new employers" Kay stated. "Even worse, Illinois is actually losing jobs, as companies move across our borders to states such Wisconsin that have recently passed common sense lawsuit."