Frivolous lawsuits. You hear the phrase all the time. Those seeking to change the law in Illinois to limit the legal rights of community members often throw the phrase out there as if everyone “knows’ that most lawsuits have no merit. A recent column in the Press Mentor made the point, arguing that juries should effectively automatically assume that the injured plaintiff is responsible for their own harm and reject fair awards against negligent-defendants.
Fortunately, Stephen D. Phillips, President of the Illinois Trial Lawyer’s Association, wrote an enlightening column responding the misleading article.
For starters, Phillips pointed out that it is outrageous for one to make assumptions about most injured patients seeking relief via the civil justice system. Anyone who has worked for any extended period of time in this field appreciates that when a family is seeking recovery following a serious brain injury, the harm they face is not “frivolous.” They are not jumping on a bandwagon to make money. They would all turn back the clock, if they could, and prevent the injury. Boxing in all injury plaintiffs as lawsuit abusers is completely inappropriate and divorced from reality.
As Attorney Phillips points out, if anything is “frivolous” about the process, it is the disingenuous claims made by many defendants in their efforts to avoid accountable for the consequences of their actions. Phillips wrote, “Injured people are often delayed compensation because of routinely filed frivolous defenses to meritorious lawsuits. They defend the indefensible for years to wear suffering individuals down financially and force them to take less than fair compensation for their injuries.”
In suggesting some sort of widespread problem related to personal injury lawsuits, tort reform groups often claim that the suits are destroying business and overwhelming the justice system docket. Are those claims true?
The article referred to in the Press Mentor story mentions one “study” on that front which seems to suggest that lawsuits are some large problem driving unemployment. Conveniently left out is the fact that the “study” was paid for by the largest business lobbying group in the country and involved only interviews with business employees at companies with an annual revenue of $100 million or more. In short, the study has virtually no value except to confirm that the largest corporations in the country do not like to pay out when juries deem them responsible for causing harm. No surprise there.
Real facts which shed light on the issue of “lawsuit abuse” tell a far different story. Phillips explains how in reality, over 70% of all civil lawsuits are actually filed by one business against another business. Injury cases are exponentially less frequent, accounting for only 6% of the total. That is likely why, according to an actual representative survey from the National Federation of Independent Business, in a list of 75 issues facing small businesses, lawsuits were ranked at the very bottom (71st) in level of importance. Things that actually directly affect most business–taxes, labor costs–are the real concern.
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