By Zach Mottl
Cook, Madison and St. Clair counties just put Illinois on the map for being one of the worst “judicial hellholes” in the nation — again.
This discouraging, yet unsurprising news comes from the American Tort Reform Foundation’s newly released 2020 Judicial Hellholes report, an annual report that spotlights the jurisdictions where documented histories of lawsuit abuse have earned them reputations as judicial hellholes, and where constituents are forced to suffer the far-reaching impact of an imbalanced court system.
This year, Cook, Madison and St. Clair counties earned the No. 8 spot on the list of nine hellholes, down from No. 7 last year. While this can technically be viewed as progress, being labeled the nation’s eighth worst hellhole instead of the seventh is hardly what I would call an improvement to our reputation.
The report emphasizes the magnitude of Illinois’ unique problem with what is sometimes known as “no-injury” lawsuits. Each year, Cook, Madison and St. Clair County courtrooms allow a flood of lawsuits to be filed in which the person suing doesn’t actually claim that they’ve suffered an injury or been harmed. In other words, the bar is very low.
This issue is particularly prevalent in relation to Illinois’s unique Biometric Information Privacy Act, which allows any Illinoisan to seek damages if they aren’t informed or given a release when a company uses biometric data. One example of biometric data are facial scans used to unlock a phone.
In January 2019, the Illinois Supreme Court ruled in favor of a plaintiff who sued Six Flags for BIPA violations because the park collected his son’s fingerprints when they purchased a season pass in order to make entry and re-entry to the park easier. This ruling solidified that a plaintiff does not need to have suffered actual harm in order to win a BIPA lawsuit.
As you can imagine, certain trial attorneys came running, seeking out businesses that use iris scans, fingerprints or various other facial recognition systems. If they find that a business hasn’t followed a small portion of the law in any way, they use that as the basis of their lawsuit, despite the fact that no one suffered any harm.
This has been detrimental to Illinois businesses who have been left vulnerable to these lawsuits. Even on a good day, the cost of litigation is enough to shut a small business down for good. And, given the current state of the economy, the targeted businesses don’t stand a chance. When a business shuts down for good, they take the jobs and services they once provided with them — a blow to the economy, and all Illinois residents.
Rather than fixing this problem, Illinois lawmakers continue to create new ways for businesses to get sued through liability expanding policies, which the state legislature was considering before COVID-19 forced them to adjourn. If they move to expand liability further, the already high financial burden of doing business in Illinois will increase significantly, making our state unattractive to new businesses and a nightmare for the businesses that already exist.
It’s also a testament to how poorly our state’s legislature is serving its constituents. Recent polling shows that 80 percent of Illinois residents do not believe lawmakers are doing enough to combat lawsuit abuse. By expanding liability, lawmakers would not combat lawsuit abuse, they’d fuel it.
The Hellholes Report also reveals that, of all the counties in the United States, all three of these Illinois counties are in the Top 10 counties for the highest number of asbestos lawsuits filed. If that isn’t a testament for just how plaintiff-friendly our state is and how low our evidentiary standards are, I don’t know what is.
In 2021, we must get rid of lawsuit abuse in these counties. The excessive tort costs that come with this lawsuit-friendly behavior are a burden for all Illinois residents, taking away an estimated 100,000 jobs a year and $6.2 billion in personal income.
It’s time that our legislature listens to the vast majority of its constituents and stops the abuses of our state’s civil justice system. If they do, perhaps we can get off the judicial hellholes list in 2021.