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Press Release

December 14, 2010


I-LAW says new report confirms Cook County's costly status as the "Lawsuit Tax Capital of the U.S."; National report cites I-LAW study showing Cook County government is a $54 million lawsuit magnet

(Chicago) - Calling Cook County a "magnet for plaintiffs," a new report released today ranks Cook County the nation's Fifth-worst "Judicial Hellhole."

The 2010 "Judicial Hellholes" report, issued by the American Tort Reform Association, examines courts and legal systems across the country in an attempt to find the places where the courts are most abused, unfair and targeted by aggressive personal injury lawyers. The report states that the "folks running Cook County's court system have little desire to curb the filing of questionable lawsuits, show restraint in awarding damages, or otherwise heed calls for reform. Litigation there, after all, is a booming business for both plaintiffs' attorneys and the courts."

"The jobless rate in Cook County stands at 9.4 percent," said I-LAW executive director Travis Akin. "The news that Cook County is once again one of the nation's worst 'Judicial Hellhole,' is not going to do anything to attract new job opportunities. Companies look to build or expand their business in places where the legal system is fair. Being one of the worst 'Judicial Hellholes' in the country is not exactly throwing out the welcome mat for new businesses. If we want to bring jobs and opportunities back to Illinois, then we have to shed Cook County's reputation as a plaintiffs' paradise once and for all."

Mentioned in the 2010 "Judicial Hellholes" report is a report I-LAW released last October. In an attempt to quantify the "lawsuit tax" and measure its widespread impact on county residents, I-LAW conducted a comprehensive examination of the amount of money Cook County government spends on litigation expenses, including settlements and verdicts, and found these staggering results:

  • In 2009, Cook County paid a whopping $54 million in litigation-related expenses.
  • Cook County has paid out a staggering $312 million in litigation-related expenses since 2005.
  • From 2005-2009, Cook County spent 136 times more money on litigation expenses than neighboring DuPage County. During this period, DuPage County, which is second only to Cook County in terms of population, spent a total of $1.4 million in judgments and settlements, while Cook County has spent a whopping $215 million on judgments and settlements.

"The $54 million in legal costs paid by the county in 2009 to fight frivolous lawsuits is draining money out of the county's budget, compelling County leaders to keep the sales tax high in part to offset tax revenues lost to lawsuit abuse," Akin said. "In reality, everyone in Cook County is actually paying a hidden 'lawsuit tax' because County government is such a strong magnet for lawsuits."

Though the ATRA report shows how local businesses are frequently targeted with frivolous lawsuits, the recent report from I-LAW reveals that Cook County government has become one of the juiciest targets for enterprising personal injury lawyers - which has significant consequences for residents.

Just recently, the County agreed to pay a whopping $55 million to settle a lawsuit against the Cook County Jail. In recent news coverage, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle has cited the recent lawsuit settlement as one of many reasons why a complete rollback of former Cook County Board President Todd Stroger's 1 percent sales tax hike won't happen until 2013.

"Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle has said the sales tax hike cannot be rolled back until 2013 at the earliest," Akin said. "The County is staring at a $487 million budget deficit and the recent $55 million lawsuit settlement is only going to compound the County's fiscal problems. The litigation problem is draining the County of money and costing taxpayers millions of dollars each year. It is time local officials did something about it."

Akin said the County Board could follow the example of Chicago Police Supt. Jody Weis, who has begun to fight litigation rather than settle cases. In just one year, the number of cases has dropped 50 percent and the City of Chicago has paid out a total of $1.7 million in cases under $100,000 this year as compared to $9 million in 2008.

"In California, L.A. County has taken significant steps toward reducing their legal costs and in just one year, they reduced the cost of lawsuit settlements by $13 million," Akin said. "So, reducing litigation costs is something that can be done in large, urban counties. I would hope that with a $487 million budget shortfall, Cook County Board members would look at has happened in the City of Chicago and in L.A. County and finally make lawsuit reform a priority."

Both I-LAW's study, "Cook County: The County that Pays," and ATRA's 2010 "Judicial Hellholes" report can found here.

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