U.S. Chamber Got What it Paid For: A Biased Study
Designed to Reach a Foregone Conclusion
Statement by Perry J. Browder
President, Illinois Trial Lawyers Association
September 10, 2015
Gov. Bruce Rauner’s appearance today with the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform, a front group for the nation’s wealthiest special interests, represents his latest effort to shift more burden and risk to middle class taxpayers so that the insurance industry and largest corporations – already collecting record profits – can skirt financial accountability for their dangerous actions.
What Gov. Rauner won’t mention is the true motive behind so-called “lawsuit reform”: 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. When men, women or children maimed, burned, paralyzed or otherwise seriously injured are prevented from seeking adequate redress against the entities responsible for causing their suffering, taxpayers foot the bill to cover their extraordinary costs and to help give them a chance to attain a respectable quality of life.
It’s no surprise that online surveys from Harris Interactive, the firm behind the Chamber’s poll, received a D+ grade from FiveThirtyEight, the respected poll rating organization. Only corporate defense lawyers from companies earning $100 million or more were surveyed; the results ostensibly reflect public opinion, but local attorneys, judges and members of the media were not asked to participate. It’s a form of math-washing – using numbers to give the veneer of science and precision to a biased study that found just what it wanted to find.
The results of the Chamber’s so-called survey are a universe removed from the actual facts of the Illinois judicial system but are exactly what the Chamber bought and paid for to buttress its continuing attempt to sow confusion and demonize our courts. The Institute for Legal Reform has long fronted for insurers and a “who’s who” of pharmaceutical, oil and tobacco companies, among others, and it is dedicated to minimizing the chance those entities might ever be made accountable for actions that harm or kill innocent people.
Businesses File Most Lawsuits; Civil Lawsuit Filings Are Actually Down
The reality is that very few injured Americans file lawsuits. The number of civil cases filed in Illinois has dropped 26 percent since 2007. More than 70 percent of the cases in our courts today are filed by businesses – the very ones seeking to take away our constitutionally protected rights – suing other business or individuals for money.
As for medical malpractice cases, the number brought in our state has steadily declined over the past decade; it’s fallen more than 40 percent since 2003.
The Myth that Illinois’ Legal Climate is an Impediment to Business
For the second year in a row, Site Selection magazine this spring named Chicago the top metro area in the country. In the same study, Illinois ranked third nationwide in the number of capital investment projects in 2014 and eighth in the number of projects per capita – well ahead, in both categories, of Indiana and Wisconsin. Business is thriving in Illinois and corporate profits are at record highs, even though many workers are not receiving their fair share of the growth they help create.
Gov. Rauner and the U.S. Chamber – not to be confused with local chambers of commerce, which take a genuine interest in the affairs of local communities – feign concern for the Illinois business climate but the fact is there is no correlation between our state’s civil justice system and the economy. Just look to a recent survey by the National Federation of Independent Business – lawsuits ranked 71st on a list of the 75 chief concerns of small businesses.
While the corporate CEOs are crowing about the monumental profits falling into their bottom lines on Wall Street, they are talking out of the other side of their mouths and suggesting that already meager worker safety standards and incomes be slashed – that big businesses need additional advantages over working men and women.
Ask working families if their incomes mirror these astronomical increases in corporate profits on any percentage basis or other reasonable comparison. Trying to eliminate ordinary families’ rights and protections in the midst of these enormous profits is truly shameless.
Illinois’ Civil Justice System Works
Illinois 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 over decision-making.
Gov. Rauner and the Chamber’s donors don’t truly fear so-called frivolous lawsuits because they know our justice system filters out cases without merit. What they fear are meritorious lawsuits – actions brought by citizens against those putting others’ children or loved ones at risk of injury or death.
Trial lawyers fight to ensure all citizens get equal footing in the courtroom, even when taking on the most powerful interests. We see to it that those who harm consumers, other individuals, or even their own employees, are held accountable. The efforts of our clients to face down corporations, insurance companies, health care providers, and other entities – and speak in the only terms they understand, which are financial – play an important role in promoting and incentivizing product, consumer and worker safety.
Today’s event should be recognized for what it is, a deplorable call to strip middle and lower-income Illinoisans of their constitutional right to access the courts their tax dollars fund.