The following letter to the editor by ITLA President John P. Scanlon appeared in the State Journal-Register on October 19, 1017.
The U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform, a front group for the nation’s wealthiest corporate interests, in conjunction with the Illinois Chamber of Commerce, is touting a newly released version of a tired old report that supposedly ranks the best and worst state legal systems in America.
The U.S. Chamber and its affiliates specialize in sowing confusion and demonizing our court system on behalf of their generous benefactors who hope to maximize profits and shift the responsibility of caring for those sickened or injured by their reckless conduct onto taxpayers.
The survey relies solely on the opinions of lawyers from multi-million-dollar corporations who spend their days trying to ensure that consumers or employees can’t hold their clients accountable for wrongdoing and gross negligence. The consumers and employees – those whose rights the Chamber would blunt – had no voice in the survey.
Year after year the Chamber’s report is found to have numerous errors, misstatements and outright lies. The methodology has been debunked. In fact, the Chamber’s own pollster admitted there is no way to measure a state’s legal system. The same pollster confessed that few corporate defense attorneys know anything about their state courts.
The resulting disinformation is far removed from the actual facts of the Illinois judicial system but is exactly what the Chamber bought and paid for to reinforce its effort to mischaracterize our courts.
The reality is that very few injured Americans file lawsuits. Statewide, the number of civil cases filed in Illinois dropped 43 percent between 2010 and 2015, and in Cook County civil lawsuit filings dropped by more than 50 percent in the same time frame.
In Madison County, the number of asbestos lawsuits filed has declined 27 percent since 2013. However, the U.S. Chamber won’t be satisfied until all individuals suffering due to exposure to that toxic substance completely forgo their right to hold responsible those who put them in harm’s way.
Never mentioned is the fact that more than 60 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.
There is absolutely no correlation between our state’s civil justice system and the economy. A recent survey by the National Federation of Independent Business ranked lawsuits 68th on a list of the 75 chief concerns of small businesses. Furthermore, Illinois ranks fifth among all states in gross domestic product according to the most recent data from the U.S. Department of Commerce. Big business is flourishing in Illinois, even though many workers are not receiving their fair share of the growth they help create.
Ask working families if their incomes mirror these astronomical increases in corporate profits on any percentage basis or other reasonable comparison. Trying to undermine ordinary families’ rights and protections in the midst of these enormous profits is truly shameless.
Illinois courts provide a level playing field for individuals to pursue justice against wrongdoers – even the wealthiest people and companies that, in other spheres of our government, exert vastly disproportionate influence over decision-making. Each of us is afforded the ability to advocate effectively for our own economic security while, at the same time, helping to deter a repeat of harmful behavior.
The U.S. Chamber’s donors don’t truly fear so-called frivolous lawsuits because they know our courts filter 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.
John P. Scanlon is president of the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association.