A civil justice reform group is seeking to advance legislative proposals that would help eliminate "junk” lawsuits in Illinois courts.
“Illinois needs legal reform,” Travis Akin, executive director of Illinois Lawsuit Abuse Watch (I-LAW), told the Record.
“Venue reform is something lawmakers have been pushing for a long time," he said. "Unfortunately, the majority party leaders in the House and the Senate continue to oppose this common-sense reform. Venue reform would allow civil lawsuits to be filed where the incident occurred or where the plaintiff lives. Cases that have nothing to do with Illinois should not be filed in Illinois. This is a common-sense reform.”
According to a 2016 “Judicial Hellholes” report from the American Tort Reform Foundation, Madison, St. Clair and Cook counties are among the “Top Ten Worst Judicial Hellholes” in the country, due in large part to venue shopping.
Gov. Bruce Rauner has proposed lawsuit reform legislation that includes a proposal to prevent personal injury lawyers from venue shopping.
Another reform I-LAW would like to see is joint and several liability reform.
“It just makes sense to ensure that individuals or businesses found liable in a civil suit are paying their fair share of the damages,” Akin said. “Thanks to the Illinois Supreme Court ruling Ready v. United/Goedecke Services, deep-pocket defendants can now potentially be on the hook for a very high percent of the damages when multiple defendants are involved, even if they are only partially at fault.”
In Ready v. United/Goedecke Services, the Illinois Supreme Court ruled that defendants who have settled cannot be taken into account when allocating fault, making it difficult for any defendant remaining at trial to avoid liability.
Proponents say that Ready encourages all parties to settle claims before they go to trial. Tort reform advocates contend Ready prompts unscrupulous plaintiffs to selectively settle.
“Illinois law makes it easier to hold the deep-pocket defendant more liable than other defendants because of the greater ability to pay,” Akin said. “Individuals or businesses only partially at fault for something should not have to pay a greater percentage of the damages just because they can.”
Rauner has advocated several civil justice reforms but has been blocked by opposing legislative leaders.
Akin says I-LAW has civil reform legislative allies in the Illinois House, including Rep. Steve Andersson, Rep. Tom Morrison, Rep. David McSweeney, Rep. Randy Frese and Rep. Reggie Phillips. Akin says the strongest I-LAW allies in the Senate include Sen. Dan McConchie, Sen. Jil Tracy and Sen. Kyle McCarter.
According to a 2011 NERA Economic Consulting study, Illinois could save up to $2.4 billion in tort costs and create between 54,000 and 147,000 new jobs through legal reform.