If there is one word to describe the state of our nation’s economy, it’s uncertainty. Inflation, a banking crisis, international military conflicts – all these things are happening simultaneously as our nation finally shakes free from a global pandemic.
One easy solution that state lawmakers in Illinois should look at to help alleviate uncertainty would be cutting back on the absurdly high number of lawsuits clogging the court dockets.
This year’s Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse (CALA) Economic Impact Report for Illinois makes the issue plain to see. This new study reports that Illinois loses 202,563 jobs annually and each resident pays over $2,000 more per year for goods and services due to lawsuit abuse across the state.
Most people don’t even know that their pocketbooks are being drained due to predatory trial lawyers taking advantage of Illinois’ broken legal system. But as a fourth-generation small business owner in Illinois, I’ve witnessed the harsh impact of our backwards legal system up close. It’s safe to say that Illinois would be lot better off without the burden of unfettered lawsuit abuse.
Springfield is the origin of this problem, where state officials have seemingly endorsed an agenda hostile to small businesses. The most recent example was the Illinois Supreme Court’s recent ruling in a case involving the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA) – a law designed to protect the privacy of an individual’s biometric information (think fingerprints and facial recognition). It’s a sound goal, but the courts recently expanded it to include methods employers use for keeping track of working hours, even when the information is not shared with anyone. Lawsuits now abound, and businesses are in the crosshairs.
This is demonstrative of a seriously flawed mindset in Illinois. Predatory trial attorneys are incentivized to sue businesses with the shoddiest of merit, in order push for settlements before cases make it to trial. A lawsuit’s expensive legal fees, even to simply defend oneself from bogus claims, can kill a business without even losing a case. To offset losses, businesses are forced to lay off employees, raise prices for customers, or get out of dodge by leaving Illinois altogether. Is that the kind of state business owners want to set up shop in? One could argue it’s a major reason Illinois is experiencing a mass exodus.
That isn’t even the worst of it. Illinois businesses are also unnecessarily saddled with hyper-restrictive workers compensation laws. Essentially, employers are highly restricted in their ability to settle differences with employees outside of court, which is a process called ‘mediated arbitration.’ Instead, trial attorneys have shimmied their way into the process, which will drain the resources of both parties and eventually take the matter before a judge.
Too many small business owners, such as myself, understand that bypassing arbitration is less effective, exponentially more expensive, and leads plaintiffs and defendants to worse outcomes. Employees with disputes will receive less compensation due to trial attorney fees, making the biggest winners in any case the trial attorneys themselves. It’s damaging to business owners in the manufacturing industry where the risk of injury is higher and employees that inevitably get hurt will be compensated less than what they deserved. Mediated arbitration ought to be protected and restored, as it would remove a court middleman, save both parties time and money, and improve workers compensation outcomes for everyone.
If we wanted to entice Illinois residents and businesses to stay, ending lawsuit abuse would be a good start. Friends and family are leaving Illinois every year, and with the current economic climate in Illinois, it’s hard to blame them. Over-penalizing and hampering small businesses results in job loss, soaring prices, and more closed doors to businesses. By ending these problems and curtailing lawsuit abuse, Illinois’ future would be a lot brighter.
Zach Mottl is the 4th generation of his family to own and operate Atlas Tool Works, Inc. (Lyons, IL).