Lawmakers left town last week without taking action on some big ticket items such as pension reform and gaming expansion but kicking the can is really nothing new for the Illinois General Assembly. After all, lawmakers have been kicking the can when it comes to lawsuit reform for many years and this legislative session was no exception.
Illinois is ranked as the nation’s fifth-worst state for legal fairness according to the respected research company Harris Interactive. While surrounding states such as Wisconsin and Iowa have taken steps to implement lawsuit reforms, the leadership in the House and the Senate refuses to even allow lawsuit reforms to get a vote.
Approving meaningful reforms would send a message to job creators that Illinois is serious about job growth. The current unemployment rate in Illinois is 9.3 percent. Only Nevada has a higher unemployment rate than Illinois. The current policies coming from Springfield are clearly not working.
The real world consequences of failing to enact meaningful lawsuit reforms are higher unemployment and increased difficulties in attracting new business opportunities to Illinois. Employers look to locate or expand their business in states where the legal system is fair. Why would a prospective employer locate a new business or expand an existing one in a state ranked the fifth-worst in the country for legal fairness?
Personal injury lawyers dismiss the connection between the economy and lawsuit abuse but their view defies logic. Money businesses spend fighting frivolous and unnecessary litigation is money that could be spent on adding new employees and growing the business. Lawsuit abuse slows economic growth. A recent study shows that the United States has the world’s most costly legal system as a share of its economy. Think of the kind of economic growth our nation could experience if our nation’s entrepreneurs did not have to shoulder the burden of the world’s most expensive legal system.
Instead of ignoring the need to fix our legal system, Illinois lawmakers need to make lawsuit reform a priority. While lawsuit reform legislation was left on the table, lawmakers did find time to approve legislation (SB 1912) that will discourage settlements and burden the courts with cases parties would otherwise settle by imposing statutory deadlines the parties cannot realistically meet, and therefore will force them to litigate their cases.
This means more cases will be tried in court, leading to an even greater backlog of cases in our already clogged courtrooms. Illinois residents deserve to get justice in our courts in a timely manner, but SB1912 will hurt – not help – the ability of Illinois residents to get a speedy resolution to their disputes.
It is time lawmakers stopped ignoring the obvious and enact meaningful lawsuit reforms and create an environment to attract more jobs – not more lawsuits.
Travis Akin is Executive Director of Illinois Lawsuit Abuse Watch.