When a person is injured because of the carelessness of another, he or she has the right to seek redress for the harm they have suffered. Personal injury lawsuits, above all else, seek to help injured people get compensation from the party at fault or from its insurer. But insurance companies and other special interests do not like part with their money, so they often seek to tilt the scales of justice in their own favor by pushing for legislation that limits the right to sue for damages.
Of course, insurance companies and their allies would not garner much sympathy if they simply said what they really mean – that they do not want to pay injured people what they deserve. Instead, they use a different message. According to them, Illinois is suffering from “lawsuit abuse” and is a “judicial hellhole.”
A recent editorial in the State Journal-Register exemplified this approach. Travis Akin is the spokesperson for Illinois Lawsuit Abuse Watch, an anti-consumer group funded by insurance companies and other special interests. Akin claimed that “lawsuit abuse” in Illinois has harmed business and employment in the state. The idea is that businesses are so wary of supposedly “plaintiff-friendly” courts in Illinois that they choose not to locate in the state.
As Stephen D. Phillips, President of the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association pointed out in a response editorial, personal injury lawsuits account for only six percent of all lawsuits filed, and a recent survey found that lawsuits ranked 71st out of 75 issues that business owners said were important to them. If Illinois is really bad for business, then why are two of the nation’s largest insurance companies, State Farm and Allstate, headquartered here?
Akin’s opinion piece states that a “non-partisan” group, the Harris Research Company, ranked Illinois 46th out of 50 states in legal fairness. In reality, the poll was commissioned by U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which also seeks to change the judicial system in ways to favor the big businesses that are often defendants in personal injury lawsuits, including corporations in the insurance, tobacco and pharmaceutical industries.
Claims of “lawsuit abuse,” like stories of “frivolous” lawsuits and “out of control” awards for damages, are purposely misleading, and they are usually part of an effort to limit damages in lawsuits or to otherwise interfere with the judicial system. The truth is, when people suffer serious injuries, their lives are often altered forever. A monetary award is badly needed to compensate for medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering. Insurance companies and their lawyers work hard to avoid paying injured plaintiffs.