Madison County, long known as a favorite lawsuit-filing destination for out-of-state personal injury lawyers and plaintiffs, is again on a list of the “Top Five Worst Judicial Hellholes” in the country.
Today’s annual report on the nation’s worst “Judicial Hellholes” comes from the American Tort Reform Foundation, which defines a “judicial hellhole” as “a place where judges systematically apply laws and court procedures in an unfair and unbalanced manner.”
That statement is especially true of Madison County, explained Travis Akin, executive director of Illinois Lawsuit Abuse Watch, a non-partisan, grassroots legal watchdog group.
“Personal injury lawyers continue to target Metro East courts with frivolous lawsuits filed on behalf of out-of-state plaintiffs, and far too often judges here allow cases to proceed with plaintiffs who have no connection to the Metro East,” said Akin. “This kind of abuse clogs Metro East courts, wasting taxpayer resources and delaying justice for people with legitimate claims.”
The county has moved up and down on the list — even was off it for a time several years ago during a period of reforms intended to address the reputation.
But the latest report accuses the county of becoming a favorite destination for personal injury lawyers filing asbestos-related lawsuits, almost always on behalf of out-of-state plaintiffs, Akin said.
· Only 1 in 10 of the lawsuits filed in Madison County is filed by a plaintiff who ever worked or lived in the county.
· Statistics show the problem is getting worse: In 2006, asbestos filings in Madison County reached a low point of 325, after having been on the rise for many years. Since then, the number of asbestos filings has increased each year to 455 in 2007, 639 in 2008, 814 in 2009, 840 in 2010, 953 in 2011 and 1,563 in 2012 and a new record of 1,678 in 2013.
· Despite having only .08 percent of the U.S. population, Madison County now accounts for one in four asbestos lawsuits filed in the U.S.
Now, even more asbestos lawsuits could be filed in Madison County as a result of what Akin calls “surprise legislation” pushed by the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association in the 11th hour of the recently concluded fall veto session of the Illinois General Assembly. The legislation (SB 2221) eliminates the state’s 10-year “statute of repose” on the exposure to asbestos on building sites during construction projects, which means lawsuits arising from asbestos exposure at construction sites will have no time restrictions.
“For far too long, Illinois has been a haven for frivolous lawsuits, which has driven away businesses and kept other employers from moving here,” explained Akin. “Aggressive personal injury lawyers have transformed Illinois from the “Land of Lincoln” into the “Land of Lawsuits,” and now they’ve worked behind the scenes to pass legislation that will make it even easier for them to file lawsuits here. This 11th hour backroom money grab will only result in more lawsuits and ultimately less jobs and opportunities for Illinois residents.”
Akin continued, “Illinois needs to be creating jobs, not more ways to file lawsuits. Governor-elect Rauner has already pledged to make common sense lawsuit reform a top priority next year, following the lead of neighboring states like Wisconsin that have attracted new businesses to their state as a result of enacting lawsuit reforms.
“Unfortunately, the early Christmas gift to the personal injury lawyers from our lame duck legislature that will make it easier to file asbestos-related lawsuits here is not likely to be reversed by the General Assembly next year, so it will be up to Madison County judges to stand up to the trial lawyers and sanction them for filing lawsuits here that have nothing to do with Illinois. Standing up to the personal injury lawyers and dismissing lawsuits from plaintiffs who do not live or work in Madison County should be every judge’s New Year’s resolution.”
For more information on the “Judicial Hellholes” report and I-LAW’s efforts to restore common sense and fairness to Metro-East courts, visit I-LAW’s website at www.ILLawsuitAbuseWatch.org.