Madison County's "No. 1!" Ranking Has Out of State Plaintiffs' Lawyers Cheering, Local Taxpayers Footing the Bill

April 15, 2015

by Bryan Quigley
Senior Vice President, Strategic Communications
U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform

You can almost hear the chants coming from Madison County, Illinois: “We’re number 1! We’re number 1! We’re number 1!”

Unfortunately, the only people chanting that are plaintiff’s attorneys. Because another in a long line of reports crowns Madison County as the most litigious county in Illinois — and one of the worst counties for lawsuit abuse in America.

A study released this week by the Illinois Civil Justice League (ICJL) puts MadisonCounty at the top of their Litigation Index, which measures the number of lawsuits filed per thousand people who reside in the county. And while the Litigation Index number for nearly every county in the state was down in data from 2013, Madison County continues to be “the pariah of Illinois litigation.”

In all counties not named Madison, St. Clair, or Cook, the Litigation Index is at 1.26 lawsuits per thousand people — a 41-year low. But in Madison County, the number is nearly eight times as high, at 8.255 lawsuits per thousand people.

The primary culprit for this astronomical figure? Madison County continues to be the asbestos lawsuit capital of the nation. The county handles about one-third to one-half of all the asbestos cases in the nation, with 1,678 cases being filed in Madison County in 2013 alone.

Most of those cases have little to nothing to do with Madison County. As ILR currently is highlighting in our Madison County-focused public education campaign, in 2013-2014 98% of asbestos lawsuits filed in Madison County were by plaintiffs who don’t even live there.

In fact, more cases were brought in Madison County courts by residents of Texas than by residents of Illinois.

The main reason for this is that judges are allowing cases with little or no connection to Madison County to be heard there. Illinois, however, also has notoriously weak venue laws — in other words, common sense laws that require lawsuits to actually have connections to the counties in which they are filed.

Nobody is arguing that true victims shouldn’t have their day in court. We’re just saying that cases should be filed in the jurisdictions where alleged incidents or harm took place.

Fortunately, as part of his “Bring Back Blueprint”, Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner has made legal reform, specifically venue reform, a priority. For the good of Illinois, state legislators should follow his lead and actually pass these reforms.

They should realize that legal reform is about more than just rankings in a report or a bad reputation. In ILR’s most recent “Lawsuit Climate” survey, an astounding 67% of respondents (senior attorneys and major U.S. employers) said a state’s legal climate impacts important decisions such as where to locate or do business.

With Madison County ranking as one of the least fair and reasonable jurisdictions in the country in our report, and the county’s latest ranking in the ICJL study, one can only surmise that the county’s legal climate certainly isn’t contributing to job growth in the county or state.

The cost to fund Madison County’s court system totals up to more than $20 million per year. Shouldn’t local taxpayers have a reasonable expectation that their hard-earned tax dollars will go to a court system that serves them — rather than one that caters has out-of-state plaintiffs’ lawyers chanting, “We’re No. 1” while giving Madison County a black eye in the process.