Chamber, Trial Lawyers face off over lawsuits
By Mark Fitton
Illinois News Network
SPRINGFIELD — The U.S. Chamber of Commerce on Thursday said Illinois’ lawsuit climate is nearly the worst in the country.
The Illinois Trial Lawyers Association answered, saying that’s corporate propaganda.
Citing a survey conducted for its Institute for Legal Reform by Harris Poll, the Chamber on Thursday said only Louisiana and West Virginia fare worse than Illinois.
The score represents Illinois’ worst showing in the 13-year history of the survey.
Illinois was bested by regional competitors including Iowa at No. 4, Indiana at No. 18, Wisconsin at No. 20, Kentucky at No. 39 and Missouri at No. 42.
According to the survey, 75 percent of senior company attorneys surveyed said a state’s lawsuit environment is likely to affect important business decisions at their companies, including where to locate or expand.
The Chamber rolled out the national survey in a Chicago news conference, which Gov. Bruce Rauner joined.
Rauner, R-Winnetka, praised the Chamber’s efforts to shine light on the issue and said the state’s reputation for a nasty lawsuit atmosphere was hurting Illinois in job retention, job creation and employer recruitment.
“You come here, you open yourself up to attack and excessive judgment against your company,” the governor said.
“There needs to be a balance of influence, a balance of outcomes between plaintiffs and defendants, between employers and those who are … attacking employers,” Rauner said. “We’re clearly out of balance.”
“We have two of the areas of the nation that are regarded as the worst places for lawsuit abuse, completely biased for plaintiffs and plaintiffs attorneys,” Rauner said. “That’s down in Madison County and, unfortunately, right here in the city of Chicago.”
The governor said he’s proposed legislation to improve what he considers unfairly weighted aspects of Illinois’ system, such as medical awards based on charges rather than actual payments; overly inclusive liability standards and venue shopping by plaintiffs.
The subject is important because Illinois can’t fix a seemingly continual budget crisis without improving its economy, Rauner said: “Without growth we will not solve our financial troubles.”
Perry J. Browder, president of the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association, tore into Rauner, the survey, the Institute for Legal Reform and Harris Poll in a statement issued in response.
Browder called the institute “a front group for the nation’s wealthiest special interests” and said the governor was putting profits before people.
“The only lawsuit crisis in Illinois is the one conjured up by the imaginations of phony front groups funded by big businesses trying to saddle the state’s taxpayers with the costs of caring for those who are injured or the survivors of those killed due to corporate negligence or malfeasance,” Browder said.
The Trial Lawyers president also said the respondents were essentially defense attorneys for the nation’s richest companies, and the survey excluded other relevant parties such as attorneys and judges.
Browder called the survey “math washing — using numbers to give the veneer of science and precision to a biased study that found just what it wanted to find.”
He argued Illinois’ civil justice system works and said the state’s courts “provide a level playing field for individuals to force wrongdoers to make amends — even the wealthiest people and companies that, in other spheres of our government, exert vastly disproportionate influence.”