Center for America

News Releases About Legal Reform

November 18, 2005

 

 

New Study Demonstrates Civil Lawsuit Problem in Illinois

Findings prove need for passing court reform in Illinois, coalition says

 

For Immediate Release

Contact: 

Matt Demo
312-573-5451

November 17, 2005 — CHICAGO – Several Illinois counties have become magnets for large civil lawsuits, according to a new study released today before an Illinois Senate hearing. Advocates of court reform say the findings point to the need for action by the General Assembly.

 

The study, “Litigation Imbalance,” conducted by the Illinois Civil Justice League (ICJL) between March and October 2005, analyzed more than 90 percent of major civil court filings in Illinois. It found the number of major civil lawsuits filed in 2003 in such counties as Cook, Madison, Peoria, St. Clair and Williamson was grossly out of proportion with those counties’ population and the number of suits filed in similar-sized and neighboring counties.

 

“Our findings confirm what everyone in the business and legal communities already knows: Illinois has become a haven for civil litigation to the point that equal justice is not served in the state,” said Edward Murnane, president of the Illinois Civil Justice League, who presented the study today at a hearing before the Illinois Senate’s judiciary committee. “People flock to a few of our counties from all over the country to file suits that have nothing to do with Illinois. Illinois taxpayers get stuck footing the bill for all those trials, court staff and facilities. Citizens are made to lose valuable workdays and personal time serving on juries for trials that should take place elsewhere. The time to enact meaningful reform in Illinois is now.”

 

The supporters of venue reform in Illinois, which include more than 60 businesses, organizations and municipalities, are asking the Illinois General Assembly to enact the Common Sense Courts Act, designed to curb the practice of “venue shopping” by attorneys who file lawsuits in counties with plaintiff-friendly courts even though those counties have no real connection to the actual lawsuit. The effort is headed by the ICJL and the Coalition for Common Sense Courts, who point to current venue shopping issues as harming the judicial and business climate in the state, which businesses examine closely when deciding whether to expand or locate – or even stay – in Illinois.

 

Cook County has emerged as a favorite place to file lawsuits in major civil cases (those cases where plaintiffs seek more than $50,000 in damages).

 

Cook, which makes up 42.9 percent of the state’s population, accounted for 40.8 percent of criminal felony cases and 43.4 of total judicial cases in Illinois in 2003, a share of cases in line with its proportion of the population. But Cook County’s share of major civil cases was way out of line with its share of the population, with  63.6 percent of such cases filed in Illinois winding up in Cook courts. This represents a major shift from 1994, when Cook County accounted for just 47 percent of major civil lawsuits filed in the state.

 

Madison County, with a population of 260,000, had the highest proportion of major civil case filings of any Illinois county, with eight such filings for every 1,000 residents. In comparison, Hancock County had only eight filings for all of 2003, or 0.4 filings per 1,000 residents. The two other Illinois counties with roughly the same population as Madison County, McHenry and Winnebago (home to Rockford), had only 1.5 and 1.7 lawsuits for every 1,000 residents, respectively.

 

As a whole, the 101 Illinois counties outside of Cook averaged only 1.86 major civil cases filed for every 1,000 residents. After Madison County, the Illinois counties with the most filings per 1,000 residents were Cook (4.3), Williamson (4.3), St. Clair (3.2), Hardin (3.1), Massac (3.05), Franklin (2.9) and Union and Peoria counties (2.4). Most of these counties had double the filing rate of counties immediately adjacent to them.

 

“People in these counties are not that much more litigious than the rest of the state, nor do they commit more offenses that give rise to large civil suits,” said Gerald Roper, president of the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce and co-chair of the Coalition for Common Sense Courts. “We’re just dealing with a few courts in a few counties that plaintiffs’ attorneys know are predisposed to give large awards. The result is that Illinois gets a black eye as a place with an anything-goes civil justice system, which sends the message this is a risky place to do business.”

 

Not only are more cases filed in Cook, Madison and St. Clair counties, but attorneys report that judges there also disproportionately deny their motions to move trials to more logical venues. Defense attorneys across Illinois surveyed in October 2005 estimated that 78 percent of change-of-venue motions are denied in those three counties. More than two-thirds of defense attorneys who commented said the most common reason for denying their motions for fixing venue in a better location centered on “loose business connections” to the county where the suit was filed.

 

The Common Sense Courts Act, first introduced in the Illinois General Assembly this spring as SB1724, would curb “venue shopping” by plaintiffs’ attorneys by requiring a real connection between a lawsuit and the county in which it is brought. The bill as introduced in the spring would set two basic criteria for determining the proper venue for a case:

 

•  the lawsuit must be filed in a county with a real connection to the injury or    wrongdoing that took place; or

 

•  whomever is being sued must reside in the county where the lawsuit is filed. 

 

Current requirements are much looser, allowing for suits to be brought to any Illinois county from anywhere. The proposal would require a suit be filed and tried in the county where the most significant act or event leading to the suit took place, not where some random small connection to the act or event took place.

 

A statewide poll released earlier this year found 70 percent of Illinois voters support the provisions of the bill.

 

“The problem is well documented, and people across Illinois want it fixed because they’re tired of paying the price for a runaway civil justice system,” said Doug Whitley, president of the Illinois Chamber of Commerce and co-chair of the Coalition for Common Sense Courts. “All we need is the political will in Springfield. Our state can no longer tolerate a reputation for coddling questionable lawsuits.”

 

 Download Study Here

 

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The full text of the study can be found at  www.icjl.org.

 

The Illinois Civil Justice League is a coalition of Illinois citizens, small and large businesses, associations, professional societies, not-for-profit organizations and local governments that have joined together to work for fairness in the Illinois civil justice system.

 

                                                            

The Coalition for Common Sense Courts includes the Illinois State Chamber of Commerce, the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce, the Illinois Manufacturers Association, the Illinois Insurance Association, the Illinois Civil Justice League and chambers of commerce and mayors throughout the state.  For more examples of cases without a real connection to the county in which they were filed, and for more information about the bill

and the coalition, visit  www.commonsensecourts.org.

 

 

 

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