Metro-East News

Illinois Lawsuit Abuse Watch calls for Missouri-like reforms

During a press conference at Malcom Martin Memorial Park in East St. Louis, with the Gateway Arch in the background, I-LAW Executive Director Travis Akin discusses the recent reforms in Missouri that were enacted and are similar to what I-LAW has pushed for.
During a press conference at Malcom Martin Memorial Park in East St. Louis, with the Gateway Arch in the background, I-LAW Executive Director Travis Akin discusses the recent reforms in Missouri that were enacted and are similar to what I-LAW has pushed for. dholtmann@bnd.com

While standing in Malcom Martin Memorial Park, with the Gateway Arch and the state of Missouri in the background, Illinois Lawsuit Abuse Watch, on Thursday continued its call for lawsuit reform.

The group’s message included a call for passage of legislation that would stop what the organization says is venue shopping, where personal injury lawyers shop around for a friendly court jurisdiction.

I-LAW Executive Director Travis Akin discussed reforms in Missouri, which have moved forward in the neighboring state, and are similar to what I-LAW has pushed the Illinois legislature to vote on.

Akin said tougher standards have been put in place for expert witnesses in Missouri. A bill that would end venue shopping across the river passed the House.

“It is a tale of two states,” Akin said. “Missouri — the ‘Show Me State’ — has responded to a growing lawsuit abuse epidemic there by moving swiftly this year to enact meaningful lawsuit reforms that will stop personal injury lawyers from filing junk lawsuits against employers ... Illinois — the ‘Sue Me State’ — continues to allow powerful personal injury lawyers to game the system to their personal advantage while their backers in the Illinois General Assembly continue to block common sense lawsuit reforms that will help keep businesses from fleeing the metro-east.”

Akin continued his criticism of Madison and St. Clair counties as being places for lawsuit abuse, calling them judicial hell holes.

Illinois — the ‘Sue Me State’ — continues to allow powerful personal injury lawyers to game the system to their personal advantage while their backers in the Illinois General Assembly continue to block common sense lawsuit reforms that will help keep businesses from fleeing the metro-east.

Travis Akin, executive director of Illinois Lawsuit Abuse Watch

He again said the lack of lawsuit reform scares away job creators.

Akin said a poll shows that lawsuit climate is a ‘significant factor in determining where to expand and grow.

“We need to be paying attention to what surrounding states are doing,” Akin said. “The status quo in Illinois is not working.”

The Illinois Trial Lawyers Association was quick to respond Thursday by calling the East St. Louis news conference a public relations stunt.

“The truth is that Illinois already has a rigorous and well-functioning process for weeding out lawsuits that lack merit long before they ever reach the trial stage,” John P. Scanlon, president of the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association, said in a statement.

He said the number of civil cases filed in Illinois dropped 43 percent between 2010 and 2015. The number of medical malpractice cases has decreased 32 percent since 2003, and more than 60 percent of the cases in our courts today involve businesses suing other business or individuals.

“In Madison County — a favorite target for I-LAW — the number of asbestos cases filed is down 27 percent since 2013. On average, only one case per year has gone to trial during the past decade, and most cases end up settling before getting to a jury,” Scalon said. “However, I-LAW won’t be satisfied until all individuals suffering due to exposure to that toxic substance completely forego their right to hold responsible those who put them in harm’s way.”

The truth is that Illinois already has a rigorous and well-functioning process for weeding out lawsuits that lack merit long before they ever reach the trial stage.

John P. Scanlon, president of the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association

Scanlon also questioned how concerned businesses are with threatened lawsuits.

“The whole rationale for I-LAW’s event (Thursday) is further undercut by a recent study done by the National Federation of Independent Business, which ranked lawsuits 68th on a list of the 75 chief concerns of small businesses,” Scalon said.

Belleville-based Frerichs Freight Lines, Inc. was sued about two years ago after an incident involving one of its trailers.

Bill Frerichs, president of the small business, said his company moved an empty trailer in and let the customer load it. The driver, an independent contractor, drove the trailer to another location, opened the doors and the products fell onto the driver.

He was not carrying his own workers compensation insurance policy, so he sued, Frerichs said.

The driver sued Frerichs Freight Line, Frerichs’ customer, the customer where the product was being delivered, and the carrier he contracted with.

“Even though I could prove we didn’t touch the loaded trailer, I still ended up with 15 percent of the settlement,” Frerichs said.

My company is doing OK right now, but I’m not sitting on a pile of cash, and we don’t have a legal department. If someone decides to sue me, I’m in trouble ... One lawsuit, even if it’s groundless, even if it’s thrown out of court, could be the end of my company, which would leave my employees jobless.

Bill Frerichs, president of Frerichs Freight Lines Inc.

He added his liability insurance went up 8 percent after the claim.

“My company is doing OK right now, but I’m not sitting on a pile of cash, and we don’t have a legal department,” Frerichs said. “If someone decides to sue me, I’m in trouble ... One lawsuit, even if it’s groundless, even if it’s thrown out of court, could be the end of my company, which would leave my employees jobless.”

Frerichs said lawsuit reform would help keep small businesses in the state.

“This isn’t about attracting new jobs to Illinois; it’s about keeping the jobs we already have here,” Frerichs said.

Doug Jameson, a local real estate agent, spoke at the news conference. He is running as a Republican for state representative in the 113th District, which is currently held by State Rep. Jay Hoffman, D-Swansea.

“It’s been far too long that our job creators have been hurt by frivolous lawsuits. It’s lined the pockets of trial lawyers, and (has) provided an unlimited supply of campaign donations to judicial candidates and other politicians who maintain a corrupt system in favor of plaintiffs,” Jameson said. “What this does is harms our job creators, our job producers, and it’s causing a loss of jobs in the metro-east.”

Joseph Bustos: 618-239-2451, @JoeBReporter

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