ATRA: St. Clair & Madison Counties Together Named #8 Judicial Hellhole in the Country

Slew of asbestos-related lawsuits, ‘no-injury’ consumer class actions contribute to poor ranking

The American Tort Reform Foundation has released its annual Judicial Hellholes report and named St. Clair and Madison Counties, Ill. together as the No. 8 Judicial Hellhole in the country.

St. Clair and Madison Counties earned their way to the No. 8 spot due to frivolous “no-injury” consumer class actions, asbestos litigation and judges allowing forum shopping.

These two Illinois counties house a powerful trial bar and are notorious for their disproportionate volume of litigation and large verdicts. Excessive tort costs in Illinois result in $4.5 billion in annual direct costs and 81,685 jobs lost annually, according to a recent study.

The large volume of litigation in these counties’ courts includes no-injury consumer class action lawsuits challenging how food is labeled and advertised, such as whether a product qualifies as “all natural.” St. Clair County has been a magnet for these lawsuits – the Nelson & Nelson law firm has filed 21 such cases asserting that products ranging from cake mix to barbeque sauce are not sufficiently natural.

The Nelson & Nelson law firm in St. Clair County leads the charge and has filed several “unnatural” class action lawsuits over the past few years. In one instance, the firm collected $245,000 and the class received nothing. As is most often the case, plaintiffs’ lawyers walk away with significant legal fees, while consumers receive nothing but higher prices and fewer choices.

This year, the firm filed multiple class action lawsuits on behalf of a St. Clair woman accusing manufacturers of false advertising. Since 2017, that individual has filed at least six false advertisement cases, including four in April and May of 2018 alone. In each of her lawsuits, the plaintiff alleges she was “injured” by paying higher prices for products than she claims they were worth.

The stakes are high for the trial lawyers who bring these suits. St. Clair County Circuit Court held 13 civil trials in 2017, and plaintiffs were awarded a total of more than $4 million in ten of those cases. There were only three defense verdicts in all of 2017.

“For a state with as dire a financial situation as Illinois, these costs are extremely concerning,” American Tort Reform Association President Tiger Joyce said. “In addition to the hyper-litigious culture, the prospects of legal reform are grim despite the state’s desperate need for economic growth and job creation.”

On the other side of the county line and beyond the no-injury lawsuits, Madison County continues to be the preferred jurisdiction by trial lawyers bringing asbestos claims – 1,128 cases were filed in 2017. Madison County had nearly triple the number of filings of the next closest competing jurisdiction, Baltimore, Md. (495).

Between 2014 and 2017, plaintiffs’ lawyers filed 6,071 asbestos cases in Madison County, and 68 percent were on behalf of people who do not live in Illinois, let alone Madison County.


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Opinions


Editorial: Legal Reform Requires Careful Negotiations

From the Bloomington Pantagraph and Decatur Herald & Review

The state of Illinois either has one of the nation’s worst judicial climates, or is a state where the ordinary plaintiff has a fair chance to win against corporate giants.

It just depends on who you ask. More importantly, it depends on where the money is located.

That’s the result of the news last week that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce was proclaiming the Illinois lawsuit climate was one of the worst in the nation.

According to a survey conducted for the Chamber’s Institute for Legal Reform by Harris Poll, the chamber said only Louisiana and West Virginia have worse lawsuit climates.

The results are based on questionnaires asked of senior company attorneys about how a state’s lawsuit environment is likely to affect important business decisions. So, at best, the results of the survey were pretty predictable.

However, Gov. Bruce Rauner lent his support to the issue, saying the lawsuit environment in the state is hampering economic growth.

“You come here, you open yourself up to attack and excessive judgment against your company,” the governor said.

Rauner has proposed legislation that he says will put the system more into balance. Those reforms include medical awards based on charges rather than actual payments, changing overly inclusive liability standards and limiting venue shopping by plaintiffs.

View the full editorial at the Bloomington Pantagraph…

News Update


Illinois Will Delay Pension Payment, Citing Cash Shortage

From Crain’s Chicago Business

Illinois will delay payments to its pension fund as a prolonged budget impasse causes a cash shortage, Comptroller Leslie Geissler Munger said.

The spending standoff between Republican Governor Bruce Rauner and Democratic legislative leaders has extended into its fourth month with no signs of ending. Munger said her office will postpone a $560 million retirement-fund payment next month, and may make the December contribution late.

“This decision is choosing the least of a number of bad options,” Munger told reporters in Chicago on Wednesday. “For all intents and purposes, we are out of money now.”

Munger said the pension systems will be paid in full by the end of the fiscal year in June. The state still is making bond payments, and retirees are receiving checks, she said.

“We prioritize the bond payments above everything else,” Munger told reporters.

The pension payment delay was inevitable, said some who have been watching the budget gridlock.

“This is just the tip of the iceberg,” said Ralph Martire, executive director of the Chicago-based Center for Tax and Budget Accountability, which monitors Illinois finances.

“Every month they go without resolving the impasse on the budget means it’ll cost more to ultimately resolve it,” Martire said. “This is a natural, predictable consequence if you do something called math.”

Read more in our daily News Update…