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Area counties again on Judicial Hellhole list

By COLE LAUTERBACH, The Center Square

An advocacy group has again listed three Illinois counties as “judicial hellholes” known for plaintiff-friendly courts and state laws that allow for cottage industries to sprout up around legal compensation.

The American Tort Reform Association released its annual Judicial Hellhole report this month. In years past, Illinois would have seen Madison and St. Clair counties, known for its robust mesothelioma docket, and Cook County as contenders for the worst in America. In 2019-2020, the trio of counties were all still in the top ten for being what the group called “magnets for no-injury class action lawsuits, have a disproportionate amount of asbestos litigation, and judges allow frivolous lawsuits concerning the Biometric Information Privacy Act to proceed.”

The Washington D.C.-based organization said in a release that the three counties together makeup the seventh-worst set of jurisdictions in America for defendant-hostile courtrooms.

“The Illinois trial bar is one of the most powerful in the country,” ATRA President Tiger Joyce said. “The legislature pursued an aggressive liability-expanding agenda in 2019 and enacted bills to give their trial lawyer donors more opportunities to sue.”

Clerks from the three county courts were not available to comment, but the state’s leading attorney association called the report misleading.

“The deceptively titled ‘Hellholes’ report is part of [ATRA’s] ongoing campaign to deny access to the court system that our tax dollars fund,” said Antonio M. Romanucci, president of the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association. “ATRA’s annual publicity stunt demeans the U.S. Constitution and attacks citizens’ Seventh Amendment right to trial by jury.”

Romanucci said the number of civil lawsuits filed in Illinois has been declining since 2010 and was down 47 percent. And medical malpractice cases have dropped 32 percent since 2003.

Illinois’ Biometric Information Privacy Act, now common in ATRA’s criticism, includes a $1,000 fine for using a person’s tangible information, fingerprints for instance, without their express consent and knowledge of how the information will be used and ultimately destroyed. It’s the only law of its kind that allows for citizens to seek compensation in the courts rather than go through the state’s attorney general for recompense.
Litigation increased after the Illinois Supreme Court ruled that a plaintiff suing Six Flags Great America in Gurnee wasn’t required to prove he had suffered monetary damages for the case to proceed. Hundreds of lawsuits have been filed in the three counties alleging BIPA violations, including Amazon Web Services. The suit against the largest cloud storage company in the world could become the largest in the law’s history if granted class-action status.
Joyce said the effect of a “judicial hellhole” was higher costs for businesses – even those that don’t get sued pay higher insurance premiums – and stifled commerce.

“The cost of these counties being judicial hellholes is more than 81,000 jobs and nearly $5 billion in personal income just in 2018,” he said.

Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas was named ATRA’s worst hellhole.

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