By Benjamin Yount | Illinois Watchdog
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Illinois’ reputation for jackpot justice has landed three Illinois counties on the latest Judicial Hellhole report.
The annual report from them American Tort Reform Foundation ranks states and jurisdictions ripe for lawsuit abuse.
California tops the report’s Hellhole list, followed by New York, Louisiana and West Virginia.
Illinois is fifth on the list, not as a state but rather represented by Madison and St. Clair counties.
The two counties, across the river from St. Louis, have become one of the favorite locations for venue shopping lawyers looking for a big payday, said Travis Akin, executive director of Illinois Lawsuit Abuse Watch.
“This is more than just the occasional slip-and-fall lawsuit,” Akin told Illinois Watchdog. “This is a very systematic, very purposeful manipulation of our legal system in the state of Illinois.”
Akin said trial lawyers have found judges and juries who will hear cases with no ties to Illinois.
The Hellhole report notes that one in four of all asbestos cases in America are tried in Madison County.
“Last year, there were nearly 1,600 asbestos lawsuits filed in Madison County, Akin said. “About 90 percent of those cases had nothing to do with Illinois.”
St. Clair County is becoming the go-to jurisdiction for lawyers looking to sue drug makers, he said.
Another report, this one from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Institute for Legal Reform, also focuses on Madison County.
That report says the 2013 asbestos case load on Madison County is on pace to top the nearly 1,600 cases from 2012.
Akin says the problem is not just with lawyers who game the system. Juries are also part of the problem.
“There is a culture in Illinois … it’s a ‘sue first’ mentality,” Akin said.
That culture is why the ATRF and the U.S. Chamber have listed Cook County, home to Chicago, as the next jurisdiction to watch.
The Hellhole report has Cook County on a watchlist for being” one of the most inhospitable places for a business to face a lawsuit in the country.”
Akin said Illinois needs to enact common sense laws to limit lawsuit abuse, including limits on venue shopping.
But Akin said the biggest reform does not need to come from the state Legislature.
“We as citizens need to take responsibility for our own actions,” Akin said. The ATRF has launched a campaign, called Stopping Lawsuit Abuse Starts with You.
Contact Benjamin Yount at [email protected] and find him on Twitter @BenYount.