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‘Litigation Imbalance’ Study Is More Bad News from Illinois, Lincoln Spinning in Grave

On the anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination, a civil justice watchdog group in Illinois has released its latest “Litigation Imbalance” study, the findings of which surely have the 16th president and Great Emancipator spinning in his grave.

“Never stir up litigation,” read Lincoln’s notes for an 1850 law lecture.  “A worse man can scarcely be found than one who does this.”

But modern Illinois is full of such men and women, and the Illinois Civil Justice League’s study, Litigation Imbalance III, shows that most of the lawsuits they engineer are filed in three counties previously made infamous by ATRA’s annual Judicial Hellholes report — Cook, Madison and St. Clair.

The ICJL’s study also warns of the emergence of three more Illinois counties where personal injury lawyers are feeling increasingly at home: Jackson, Jefferson and Williamson.

Below is the executive summary from Litigation Imbalance III:

This most recent look at major civil case filing numbers updates Illinois’ caseload statistics for major civil litigation (Law Division) filings by an additional six years, from 2008 to 2013, and from the 2005 & 2009 Litigation Imbalance studies.

Disturbingly, as the statewide and downstate numbers are flat for Illinois as a whole, Madison County has again regained its intensity, reaching 2,206 cases filed in 2013 – equal to the highest filing rate since the court changed reporting procedures in the mid-1990s. The 2013 filing rate represents a 50 percent increase from the average of the previous 10 years.

Not shocking is the fact that the Madison County filings would be minimal and fit within statistical averages if not for the hundreds of additional asbestos filings, few of which have any connection to the county or even the State of Illinois.

Additionally, the “imbalance” in case filings between Cook, Madison and St. Clair County – the counties most cited by national studies regarding lawsuit abuse – and the other 99 counties in Illinois continues to widen. To explain, the number of Illinois counties with filing rate less than one lawsuit per thousand persons – the Illinois Civil Justice League calls this the “Litigation Index” of 1.000, Litigation Index = cases filed * 1000/population – has expanded from just 24 counties in 1998 to more than half of Illinois at 59 counties.

The Litigation Index score of the 99 counties not named Madison, Cook or St. Clair was 1.260 in 2013, the lowest score in 41 years.

The lawsuit landscape in Illinois shows great improvement in the Second, Third and Fourth appellate districts, as well as improvement in portions of the Fifth District.

A “Litigation Triangle” among the counties of Jackson (Murphysboro/Carbondale), Jefferson (Mt. Vernon) and Williamson (Marion) counties shows above average litigation filing rates that are all above two lawsuits per thousand persons, as well as the traditionally-recognized lawsuit havens of Madison & St. Clair counties in the metro-east St. Louis area and the perpetually lawsuit-oriented Cook County.

Looking at Cook County, a review of the past 21 years of reported verdict totals shows that plaintiff verdicts were four times greater – an average of almost $1 million – than the surrounding four counties of DuPage, Kane, Lake and Will. That is despite the fact that the surrounding counties’ plaintiffs were successful at a five percent greater rate in reported cases.

The pariah of Illinois litigation continues to be Madison County, where lawsuit filings average 8.255 per thousand persons – double the rate of Cook County, triple the rate of St. Clair County, and six and a half times the rate of the other 99 counties in Illinois.

At 1,678 filed asbestos cases in 2013, Madison County likely handles one-third to one-half of all asbestos-related cases filed in the United States each year, and 168 times more per capita than Cook County. There is great secrecy surrounding the wealth exchanging hands through this docket, but with an estimated outcome of $2 million per case, the Madison County asbestos “rocket docket” could be worth more than $1.74 billion annually – larger than the GDP of Belize – and could produce nearly $600 million annually in contingency fees for plaintiffs’ attorneys.

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