New report singles out Cook, Madison, as among the most litigious Illinois counties

While lawsuit-filing rates in most of Illinois are at a 40-year low, they remain high in Cook and Madison counties due, in part, to asbestos cases brought by out-of-staters, a report released Tuesday by tort-reform advocates says.

The 14-page report from the Illinois Civil Justice League, which has long argued that too much litigation hurts the business environment, compares all 102 counties in Illinois by lawsuits filed per 1,000 residents.

Combined, it found 99 counties had 1.2 lawsuits per thousand residents in 2013 — the lowest figure since 1974.

But the rate in Madison, which hugs St. Louis, was 8.2 per thousand, the state's highest rate. Cook, Illinois' most populous county, had a rate of four per thousand.

"This latest study has uncovered disturbing data that shows why business has been hesitant to invest in Illinois," said the league's president, John Pastuovic. He said Illinois' litigiousness makes businesses "justifiably gun shy."

An Illinois Trial Lawyers Association statement called the report was "a pathetic attempt to put a phony academic gloss on the effort to strip middle- and lower-income Illinoisans of their constitutional right to access the courts."

"Illinois courts provide an even-handed avenue for individuals to hold wrongdoers accountable," it added.

The higher-than-average rates in Cook and Madison, it said, can be partly explained by a larger number of companies in metropolitan areas the counties encompass.

The Illinois Civil Justice League said Madison is so favored by lawyers nationwide because they know chances are good they'll get a good outcome. The report says up to half of all asbestos cases in the U.S. are filed in Madison.

Travis Akin, director of Illinois Lawsuit Abuse Watch, said the pendulum had swung too much in favor of plaintiffs.

"The goal is to balance the courts ... to bring the pendulum back to the middle," he said.

Among the reforms he and others advocate are strict standards for approving expert witnesses, arguing that it is currently too easy for judges to declare a plaintiff witness an expert.

Pastuovic also cited a statistic that 90 percent of asbestos suits filed in Madison are by people from out of state and just 1 percent from Madison itself.

"Lawsuits filed in Madison should have something to do with Madison County," he said.