SEPTEMBER 13, 2011
I-Law Study Finds Metro-East Governments Spent Millions Dealing With Lawsuits In 2010, Forcing Layoffs And Budget Cuts
I-LAW says the $3.1 million spent by Madison and St. Clair County governments on lawsuit expenses in 2010 busts budgets and drains money away from schools, police and road repairs.
(Edwardsville) - A study released today from grassroots legal watchdog group Illinois Lawsuit Abuse Watch (I-LAW) finds the Metro-East's status as a haven for lawsuits has led to municipal governments here being sued frequently, costing area taxpayers millions of dollars each year - millions that could have gone to hiring more police officers or teachers or avoiding layoffs of city and county workers.
In this study, titled "Down the Drain: How Abusive Lawsuits in the Metro-East Drain Municipal Budgets, Force Service Cuts and Suppress Job Growth," I-LAW found that in 2010 alone, the Madison and St. Clair County governments spent a combined $3.1 million dollars defending themselves against lawsuits.
"It has become painfully clear that Metro-East governments are perceived as easy marks by some personal injury lawyers," explained I-LAW Executive Director Travis Akin, "and as a result, millions of dollars of taxpayers' money is being drained away from already-squeezed municipal budgets, forcing budget cuts that affect us all. It is now clear that the Metro-East's longtime national reputation as the 'Lawsuit Abuse Capital of the Midwest' not only drains jobs from the area but also drains money for teachers, police officers, new parks and road repairs, to name just a few of the budget cuts that result from municipalities being targeted with lawsuits."
Specifically, the $3.1 million spent on litigation-related costs in Madison and St. Clair Counties in 2010 could have been used for other, more worthwhile services and programs such as:
- Hiring 50 new Sheriffs' Deputies;
- Hiring 83 new teachers;
- Paying for 124 new police vehicles;
- Funding the Parks and Recreation Grant Commission budget for more than three years;
- Financing the Madison County Child Advocacy Center for 9 years;
- Underwriting the Sheriffs' Cops in School program for 16 years;
- Funding the Madison County Highway Bridge program for nearly two years;
- Paying the Madison County Museum Fund for 20 years; or
- Funding the Veteran's Assistance program for nearly 7 years.
But Metro-East county governments are not the only targets of lawsuits. The City of Alton, in Madison County, spent a total of $1.9 million on settlements, judgments and outside counsel from 2005-2010, while the City of Belleville, in neighboring St. Clair County, spent more than $792,000 from 2005-2010 on litigation expenses. Metro-East residents thus take two hits - once when their county is sued and another time when their city is sued.
In addition to identifying and quantifying the problem with lawsuits filed against local governments, the I-LAW study makes a series of recommendations for reform that could cut down the amount of money local municipalities are forced to spend litigation-related expenses. Two specific recommendations are as follows:
1. Stop settling so many lawsuits; and
2. Encourage local judges to stop tolerating lawsuit abuse in Metro-East courtrooms.
"All too often, a municipality will decide that it's cheaper to settle a lawsuit than to fight it, but this leads potential plaintiffs to view that municipality as an easy mark, and the result is even more lawsuits filed against that government," Akin said.
Some other cities, like the City of Chicago, have reduced the number of lawsuits filed against the city as well as the amount of money spent by the city on litigation costs by announcing a new policy of aggressively fighting, and not settling, most lawsuits filed against city government.
Akin added, "Metro-East municipalities should follow this proven approach and fight back so that they are no longer viewed by potential plaintiffs as personal ATM machines. In addition, judges here should do their part to put a stop to lawsuit abuse in Metro-East courtrooms.
"Many local judges, as well as county and city elected officials, will be on the ballot in 2012, and local voters will get to give their verdict next year on whether or not those candidates are taking real steps to stop lawsuit abuse and save taxpayers' hard-earned money from being wasted."
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