The past two years in Illinois have been especially difficult. The coronavirus pandemic has caused an immeasurable amount of pain and decimated our state’s economy. Many have lost their jobs and even their small businesses. As Illinois returns to some sense of normalcy, we must find ways to rectify the damage that has been done to our economy. One crucial step towards accomplishing this feat is making targeted reforms to help our state’s businesses, who have witnessed stifled opportunity and dampened prosperity by excessive lawsuits.
Tort reform can do much more than simply clean up our state’s bloated court system. Targeted laws can help limit the number of frivolous lawsuits filed each year against Illinois’ small businesses, allowing them to instead grow and invest in their communities. Many of the class-action lawsuits filed by trial lawyers are strategically crafted to coerce small businesses into settlements. Vulnerable companies who cannot afford the costs or risks associated with a lengthy court battle often resort to settling before trial.
This kind of predatory lawsuit abuse harms local businesses and has ripple effects on our larger economy. In fact, the average citizen often ends up paying for these lawsuits in what is nicknamed the “tort tax.” When businesses are the victims of lawsuit abuse, they are forced to raise their prices to cover their legal fees, all amounts that trickle down to consumers. The actions of a few greedy lawyers end up hurting all Illinoisans. At a time when the prices of everyday household goods have skyrocketed, the citizens of our state simply cannot afford this tax.
As the President of Atlas Tool Works in Lyons, Illinois, I know first-hand the turbulence of our current business climate. I have witnessed the unfortunate effect excessive lawsuits have had on businesses, especially within the manufacturing industry. Manufacturing jobs like those at Atlas Tool Works are at the heart of our state’s economy. The livelihoods of the hardworking folks who fill these positions are put in jeopardy when lawyers exploit our legal system and turn a quick buck at the expense of a small business.
We will not achieve full economic recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic if our businesses and workers remain under attack from lawsuit abuse. Our lawmakers in Springfield have failed to stop these schemes and have left our residents out to dry. Lawmakers’ inaction on lawsuit abuse is responsible for our state’s recent ranking as one of the worst Judicial Hellholes in the country, by the American Tort Reform Foundation (ATRF).
There are definitive steps we can take to win back our courts, one of which is cracking down on the overwhelming number of misleading legal advertisements. In 2019 alone, there were 266,000 advertisements for lawyers and lawsuits in Illinois. Many of these ads incentivize everyday people to jump in on money-grabbing lawsuits against their employers. In addition, these advertisements have misled elderly medical patients to stop taking their medication regardless of input from medical professionals. The purpose of these advertisements is not to inform citizens. The purpose is to recruit new clients and to file as many lawsuits as possible, so lawyers can take their retainers. Television serves as the media of choice for lawyers to distort the truth and trick clients. In 2020, legal firms spent more than $38 million on TV ads alone.
We need to reform our system, restore our legal reputation, and make lawsuits a more transparent process for the people of Illinois. Gone are the days when lawmakers in Springfield can run roughshod over the state’s business community. We must demand action now.
Zach Mottl is president of Atlas Tool Works, Inc. in Lyons, Illinois