WASHINGTON, D.C.—The U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform today unveiled a campaign to raise awareness of what it calls “systemic lawsuit abuse in one of the nation’s most notorious jurisdictions” — Madison County.
The effort focuses on out-of-state litigants that are flooding the county court’s asbestos docket.
The chamber initiative blames Madison County’s “loose standards for accepting non-residents’ cases” for making the county into a national hotbed for asbestos litigation. Filings reached a record high of 1,660 in 2013, the chamber said.
Only 20 of those filings — or about 1 percent of the total — were by plaintiffs who live in the county.
“While Madison County’s ‘field of dreams’ asbestos courthouse might seem positive to plaintiffs’ lawyers, it’s a nightmare for the county’s taxpayers and America’s businesses,” said Lisa A. Rickard, president of Institute for Legal Reform. “Madison County courts should be used for Madison County residents, not to enrich out-of-state plaintiffs’ lawyers.”
Out-of-state participants in Madison County asbestos lawsuits are not limited to the plaintiffs, but include their lawyers as well. According to court records compiled by the campaign, the law firm with the most cases before the asbestos court was the New York-based law firm of Napoli, Bern, Ripka, Shkolnik, LLP with 546, more than one-third of the 2013 asbestos docket.
As of this morning there had been no official reaction from the local courts. Madison County has acted in recent years to overcome its reputation as a plaintiff’s paradise by curbing some practices viewed as abusive, including ending the pre-assignment of asbestos trials to plaintiffs’ law firms.
Still, the campaign said, out-of-state cases proliferate. In 2013, Madison County courts heard more asbestos lawsuits brought from Texas than from the entire state of Illinois, illustrating how plaintiffs’ lawyers continue to abuse the county’s lack of venue rule enforcement.
Institute for Legal Reform’s public awareness campaign includes a television ad, billboards, direct mail, and online ads that will begin this week.
In December 2013, the institute released a pair of reports spotlighting how abusive litigation in Cook and Madison counties is hurting Illinois’ lawsuit climate.
In the institute’s most recent Harris survey of state lawsuit climates, Illinois ranked among the worst in the country at 46. The survey respondents named Madison County as the sixth most unfair county nationwide.
For more information on the campaign, and to view the television ad, visit http://www.cleanupmadcocourts.org.
Institute for Legal Reform said it seeks to promote civil justice reform through legislative, political, judicial and educational activities at the national, state, and local levels.