The problems plaguing courtrooms throughout Illinois are well-documented. Our courts have seen ridiculous cases over having too many peanuts in a bag of mixed nuts or allegations of being “injured” by paying higher prices for products than their self-claimed worth. Even from asbestos suits and opioid litigation to excessive medical malpractice litigation, our state has long been a safe haven for trial attorneys chasing after their next big payday.
Unfortunately, things don’t appear to have improved in the past year. Recently, the American Tort Reform Foundation (ATRF) released its annual Judicial Hellhole report, which accounts for the jurisdictions most notorious for their abuse of the civil justice system. For the second straight year, Illinois has been featured in the top list, with ATRF specifically calling out Madison and St. Clair counties. Cook County also received a 'dishonorable mention.'
Among the top concerns, as with last year, are the rising numbers of class-action opioid and asbestos suits. Soliciting clients through a flood of advertisements and then compiling any claims they can – merited or otherwise – into a single class, trial lawyers aim to use it as leverage to collect a massive verdict or settlement from the defendant.
Making matters worse, class members could consider themselves fortunate to see even a fraction of any settlement or jury award, as the attorneys litigating the case all too often will work in exceptional fees that entitle them to a substantial portion of the winnings, leaving only scraps for the vulnerable people for whom they were claiming to fight.
The expansion in the number of medical malpractice lawsuits in the state of Illinois is again a growing concern.
Earlier this year, personal finance site WalletHub labeled Illinois as the 42nd best state to practice medicine, with some of the highest medical malpractice insurance costs in the nation. Just last week, the Illinois Supreme Court released its Annual Report for the Illinois court system, showing 23,128 lawsuits filed in Illinois in 2017, the most recent aggregated total. That’s almost two lawsuits filed last year for every thousand people in Illinois. In Madison County, these same totals were almost seven lawsuits per thousand residents.
But now that we’ve identified the familiar problem of lawsuit abuse of all sorts in Illinois, we’re faced with the pressing matter of identifying a solution. Moving forward, it is imperative we pressure our leaders and legislators to enact well thought-out, meaningful reforms that cut through to the profit driven motives of the frivolous litigation flooding our courts. Just earlier this year, our neighbors to the north in Wisconsin did this when they passed a measure mandating the disclosure of third-party litigation funders in the state, bringing greater transparency to the process and helping the public to better understand the motives behind particular suits.
Another solution would be to follow in the footsteps of other states by enacting a form of Transparency in Private Attorney Contracting (TiPAC) legislation. By requiring the state attorney general - and even local county States’ Attorneys - to disclose the contractual agreements with outside counsel – such as those often used in large-scale opioid suits – we can shed greater light on the overblown contingency fees worked into such contracts and discourage fees that serve the litigating attorney at the expense of class members and taxpayers alike.
Ridding ourselves of the Judicial Hellhole label will not be easy. Currently, we face a slew of complex issues flooding our courts at taxpayers’ expense, and it will take time to ensure we take the necessary steps to alleviate the problem. Should we ignore our obligation to do so, however, healthcare standards will continue to decline as court resources continue to be misused in pursuit of profit.