Illinois Counties’ Love of Lawsuits Lands Them ‘Judicial Hellholes’ Title

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Cook, Madison and St. Clair Counties ranked No. 8 due in part to high filing of “no injury” data privacy lawsuits

A trio of counties in Illinois continue to put a dark mark on the state for their open door mentality to lawsuits.

Cook, Madison and St. Clair Counties are listed as “Judicial Hellholes” yet again.

The American Tort Reform Foundation (ATRF) named the trio of counties to the No. 8 spot this year, down one position from last year. Judicial Hellholes are deemed the most unjust local courts and state civil justice systems in the country. The 2020 report ranks nine Judicial Hellholes while shining a light on lawsuit abuse and its effects.

The three counties are Judicial Hellholes yet again due in part to the amount of lawsuits filed in the counties that fail to claim any actual injury, specifically in the area of data privacy. Madison and St. Clair Counties, near fellow Judicial Hellhole St. Louis, and Cook County, which includes Chicago, are also hot spots for filing asbestos lawsuits. Further, the state’s legislature continues to create new reasons Illinois companies can be sued, increasing the financial burdens of doing business in the state. 

“At a time when business is reeling from the economic impact of COVID-19, we would hope to see attempts to ease the economic burden caused by abuses of the state’s civil justice system,” American Tort Reform Association (ATRA) President Tiger Joyce said.

Illinois’s unique data privacy law, the Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA), allows people to seek damages if they aren’t informed or given a release when a company uses biometric data, like facial scans to unlock phones. Illinois’s Supreme Court broadly interpreted the law such that actual injury is not required. Trial lawyers often find a business that didn’t follow a small portion of the law, then use that as a basis for their lawsuit, even though their client didn’t suffer any harm or injury. The court’s broad interpretation leaves Illinois businesses vulnerable to potentially massive lawsuits in the state.

“Illinois is ground zero for lawsuit filings where the person suing doesn’t actually claim they suffered any injury, what we call no-injury lawsuits,” Joyce said. “Entrepreneurial trial lawyers saw an opening for business and immediately sought to cash in by targeting businesses and courts allowed it to happen.”

Research polling shows 64.3% of Illinois survey respondents do not believe consumers should sue local businesses over personal data and more than half believe there should be real harm proven in lawsuits related to data privacy.

The state legislature continues to look for innovative ways Illinois businesses can be sued. Prior to adjourning due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Illinois legislature was poised to consider bills that would further expand BIPA and increase data privacy litigation. 

These liability expanding policies are expected to be considered again once the legislature resumes normal activity, even though polling data shows 80% of Illinois residents do not believe lawmakers are doing enough to combat lawsuit abuse. 

“Trial lawyers and their clients know Madison, St. Clair and Cook Counties’ courts are sympathetic to their causes, have low standards for evidence, and that the judges are willing to allow meritless claims to survive,” Joyce said.

The three Illinois counties are in the Top 10 counties in the US for highest number of asbestos lawsuits filed. Madison County is the top filing location, boasting more than 32% of all new asbestos lawsuit filings nationwide. St. Clair County is the second-most popular with 11% of filings. Cook County looks to be in the Top 6 this year according to mid-year data.

“Lawsuit abuse harms everyone by clogging our court system with meritless and frivolous cases, taking dollars away from researching and developing life-saving drugs, while driving up insurance costs, and driving away jobs,” Joyce said.

Excessive tort costs are a burden for Illinois residents who lose their ability to create a livelihood due to the estimated loss of nearly 100,000 jobs and $6.2 billion in personal income annually. That leads to a “tort tax” of $761.81 per person.

The full 2020-2021 Judicial Hellholes rankings are:

  1. Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas and the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
  2. New York City
  3. California
  4. South Carolina’s Asbestos Litigation (New in 2020)
  5. Louisiana
  6. Georgia
  7. City of St. Louis
  8. Cook, Madison and St. Clair Counties, Illinois
  9. Minnesota

View the full report at

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