To the Editor:
The American Tort Reform Association (ATRA) has again recycled its annual “report” to stoke prejudice and fear of our state’s legal system. ATRA, a well-funded front group for the nation’s wealthiest corporations, works to undermine the independence of courts to help corporate interests avoid responsibility for their dangerous behavior and reckless actions.
This year’s edition of the deceptively titled “Hellholes” report is part of its ongoing campaign to deny citizens access to the court system that their tax dollars fund. ATRA’s allies want to change Illinois law to shield corporations and insurance companies from accountability when their irresponsible behavior results in the serious injury or even death of innocent people. To maximize its benefactors’ profits, ATRA also would shift the responsibility of paying to care for those sickened or injured away from the companies that caused the harm and onto the backs of taxpayers.
The truth is that Illinois already has a rigorous and well-functioning process for weeding out lawsuits that lack merit long before they ever reach the trial stage. In fact, the number of civil cases filed in Illinois dropped 43 percent between 2010 and 2015. The number of medical malpractice cases has decreased 32 percent since 2003. More than 60 percent of the cases in our courts today involve businesses suing other businesses or individuals.
In Madison County – a favorite target of ATRA – the number of asbestos cases filed is down 27 percent since 2013. On average, only one case per year has gone to trial during the past decade and most cases end up settling before getting to a jury. However, ATRA won’t be satisfied until all individuals suffering due to exposure to that toxic substance completely forego their right to hold responsible those who put them in harm’s way.
Illinois’ courts are fair and provide an avenue for people of ordinary means who are victims of wrongdoing to hold perpetrators accountable. They serve as a powerful deterrent against corporate misconduct and that’s precisely why ATRA is so determined to shut down the ability of individuals to access them for help. ATRA and its supporters feign concern about “frivolous lawsuits” but what they truly fear are meritorious lawsuits that force them to return ill-gotten gains to the people they have hurt. The truth is that our justice system has well established procedures that screen out the very few suits that are without merit long before they get to trial.
ATRA’s annual publicity stunt demeans the U.S. Constitution and attacks citizens’ Seventh Amendment right to trial by jury. The real “judicial hellhole” that this group and its deep-pocketed funders are trying to create is a court system in which those who have suffered serious or catastrophic injuries have little chance for justice because their rights have been stripped away by politicians eager to please their campaign donors.
John Scanlon, President
Illinois Trial Lawyers Association