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(The Center Square) – Three Illinois counties remain on a list of “judicial hellholes,” or places a reform organization says are known for business-hostile rulings. A group representing the state’s trial lawyers says the report is “trying to capitalize” on the COVID-19 crisis. 

The American Tort Reform Foundation released its annual “Judicial Hellholes” report, highlighting local and state jurisdictions they say abuse the court system to unfairly benefit the plaintiff’s bar. Three Illinois counties – Cook, Madison, and St.Clair – are listed as their seventh-worst set of jurisdictions.

“This trio of Illinois counties continues to be a preferred jurisdiction for plaintiffs’ lawyers thanks to no-injury lawsuits, plaintiff-friendly rulings in asbestos litigation, and the promise of a liability-expanding legislative agenda each and every year,” according to the report. 

Mesothelioma, a type of lung cancer often caused by workplace exposure to asbestos, has long-remained a cottage industry in Illinois’ Cook, Madison and St. Clair counties. Many cases heard in the three counties concern parties with little-to-no connection to the venues.

"These courts exist for the citizens of those jurisdictions, not for people from the rest of the country," said ATRF President Tiger Joyce. "We've seen cases in Madison and other counties where an auto company might get sued because there's a dealership in the jurisdiction."

One of the largest settlements in a single-plaintiff mesothelioma lawsuit came in 2005 when a Madison County judge ordered U.S. Steel pay an Indiana factory worker $250 million. Neither the worker nor the company was located in Madison County. 

Another source of class-action litigation is the Biometric Information Privacy Act, an Illinois law requiring express consent before collecting someone’s bodily information such as fingerprint or facial data. Passed in 2008, the law is the only one of its type that allows for private citizens to sue, rather than limit an action to a state’s attorney general. 

‘Illinois is ground zero for no-injury lawsuits, thanks in large part to its Biometric Information Privacy Act and the courts’ expansive interpretation of the law,” the report said.

Facebook had recently agreed to pay out $650 million to Illinois-based users for collecting their facial data. 

The Illinois Trial Lawyers Association said the business interests behind ATRA want to capitalize on the ongoing pandemic. 

“This year’s report, released amid the COVID-19 pandemic that has devastated our state and nation, comes as the anonymous corporate actors funding ATRA are pressing federal lawmakers to grant them blanket immunity from COVID-19 claims, even in cases where it is provable that their reckless actions and negligence caused people, including their own employees, to get sick or die,” said Larry R. Rogers, Jr., president of Illinois Trial Lawyers Association.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker has given businesses some protections from workers’ compensation lawsuits by way of an executive order that remains in effect through the pandemic.

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Regional Editor

Cole Lauterbach is a regional editor for The Center Square covering Arizona, California, Oregon, and Washington. For more than a decade, Cole has produced award-winning content on both radio and television.