Cook County’s addiction to lawsuit costing region badly-needed jobs

Travis Akin Dec. 20, 2013, 8:30am

The verdict is and Cook County is one of the worst local jurisdictions in the country for legal fairness, according to the newly-released “Judicial Hellholes” report from the American Tort Reform Foundation (ATRF).

ATRF defines a “Judicial Hellhole” as “a place where judges systematically apply laws and court procedures in an unfair and unbalanced manner.” According to the 2013 report, Cook County was placed on the “Watch List,” which ATRF describes as “jurisdictions that bear watching due to their histories of abusive litigation and which run the risk of dropping into the hellholes abyss.”

Cook County has long been viewed as the “Lawsuit Abuse Capital of the U.S.,” ranking as the “worst local jurisdiction for legal fairness in the nation” according to a recent report from the non-partisan Harris Research Company.

County’s status as one of the country’s worst ‘judicial hellholes’ makes it difficult to attract jobs and opportunities to Chicagoland, because businesses look to move to places where the legal system is fair, and having the most unfair lawsuit climate in the country is clearly keeping businesses and the jobs they bring from moving to Cook County.

The current unemployment rate in the Chicago region is 9.1 percent, higher than the statewide average of 8.9 percent. From June 2012 to June 2013, just 38 of 372 metropolitan areas nationwide experienced increases in the unemployment rate. In Illinois, 6 of 10 metropolitan area, including the Chicago metropolitan region, had increases.

There is a broken court system in Cook County that is creating lawsuits, not jobs. Judges here need to take steps to restore fairness and common sense to Cook County courts. Such reforms are a necessary ingredient to job growth and job creation.

Looking beyond the negative impact on job growth, the new “Judicial Hellholes” report also examines how Cook’s County’s lawsuit friendly courts are leading to a flood of frivolous lawsuits filed against the City of Chicago, which has shelled out hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars in recent years defending itself against lawsuits.

The ATRF report specifically cites a study Illinois Lawsuit Abuse Watch recently conducted which found the City of Chicago has spent almost $500 million fighting off lawsuits since 2008, with nearly $200 million in litigation costs drained from the City’s budget just since last year.

Cutting the City’s annual lawsuit bill in half would allow CPS to rehire laid off teachers, restore program cuts and reduce student fees that were raised by close to 90% at many schools this year. Parents across the City are outraged by the steep cuts to their kids’ education and have been vocally directing their ire toward Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

Perhaps, though, parents should be directing their anger at the personal injury lawyers who are draining hundreds of millions of dollars from the city’s coffers through frivolous lawsuits filed against the City of Chicago. Hard-earned taxpayer dollars should be going into area schools, not the pockets of greedy personal injury lawyers.

The news that Cook County is one of the nation’s worst ‘judicial hellholes’ is not the Christmas gift Cook County residents were hoping to receive. By swamping local courts with cases that have little to nothing to do with Cook County, personal injury lawyers have put a lump of coal in all Cook County residents’ stockings this holiday season.

The people of Cook County will continue to suffer until local judges work to permanently shed Cook County’s reputation as destination jurisdiction for lawsuit tourists.

Travis Akin is the executive director of Illinois Lawsuit Abuse Watch (I-LAW), a grassroots watchdog group of concerned citizens, community leaders and small business people dedicated to educating the public about the widespread costs of lawsuit abuse. 

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