Travis Akin Sep. 9, 2013, 1:08pm

One of the greatest challenges facing small businesses is the threat of litigation. Small businesses can plan ahead to pay taxes and fees and comply with state regulations but litigation is something that can come out of nowhere. Small businesses often do not have the resources to absorb the cost of litigation and one lawsuit can put a small business out of business.

Personal injury lawyers like to pretend that lawsuits are only a problem for big businesses but the truth is more than one third of all small owners have been sued at one time or another and seven in ten small business owners say that a lawsuit would force them to reduce benefits for current employees and would cause them to hold back hiring new ones.

Here in Illinois, the cost of litigation is especially a concern for small businesses because Illinois is ranked the fifth-worst state in the nation for legal fairness. Costly lawsuits make it difficult for small businesses to grow and expand which in turn makes it even more challenging for the state economy to grow.

Currently Illinois has the second-highest unemployment rate in the nation. The link between job growth and the lawsuit climate could not be clearer. The combination of high taxes, excessive regulations and abusive lawsuits has made Illinois a hard sell to prospective employers. Illinois has tremendous natural resources and with its position geographically in the center of the country, there is no reason for Illinois to have the second-highest unemployment rate in the country. We can and should do better.

During the last few months, Illinois Lawsuit Abuse Watch has focused on an awareness campaign highlighting the impact of lawsuit abuse on small businesses. Small businesses are an essential part of the nation’s economy. In fact, more than two-thirds of all new jobs are created by small business owners. Clearly, the key to having a strong and healthy economy begins with a strong and vibrant small business sector.

As part of I-LAW’s Small Business Awareness campaign, small business owners were asked to tell their own personal stories of lawsuit abuse. One small business owner who owns a milk hauling business talked about how his company was sued after a motorist hit one of his trucks parked on the side of the road. His company was only partially at fault for the accident if at all, but yet his company absorbed the full cost because the business was perceived as having the deep pockets. For several years, his company could not expand and could not afford to replace old equipment. The lawsuit essentially had a crippling effect on his business.

Every year, lawsuit reforms that would benefit small businesses across the state are introduced and every year our legislative leaders make sure these bills never see the light of day.  It is time for our state leaders to finally listen to small business owners and stop the abuse of our courts. We need jobs – not lawsuits. Let’s put Illinois back to work by empowering small businesses.

Travis Akin is Executive Director of Illinois Lawsuit Abuse Watch.

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