J. Matthew Dudley: Settling Civil Cases

The following letter to the editor by ITLA President J. Matthew Dudley was published in the Daily Herald on February 8, 2022

A recent letter disparaging Illinois’ business climate relied on a biased study to bolster its misleading claims. Jeff Pope’s missive (“Laws make it hard to do business in Illinois,” Feb. 3, 2022) references the habitually wrong “Judicial Hellhole” report from the American Tort Reform Association.

Statistics readily available from the Office of Illinois Courts refute Pope’s position. The truth is that the number of Illinois civil lawsuits has dropped by 42 percent since 2010. Cook County filings have declined 50 percent. In downstate Madison County, a frequent target of critics, since 2013 there has been a 51 percent reduction in civil lawsuits. Workers’ compensation claims in Illinois have declined by 34 percent since 2011.

The recently signed law, which allows for prejudgment interest in personal injury cases, brings Illinois in line with 46 other states which already have some form of prejudgment interest law on the books. Moreover, for decades Illinois has allowed prejudgment interest in breach of contract cases. Contract claims usually are at the heart of the dispute when businesses like insurance companies and other corporations sue one another. Prejudgment interest is cited by those very same insurance companies and corporations as being helpful in bringing about earlier resolution of claims. One must question why the law is fair and helpful when used by insurance companies but not when a family whose loved one has been harmed.

Additionally, prejudgment interest only applies when the injured party wins at trial. There is no collection of prejudgment interest when a case settles. Unfortunately, one of the sad realities of the pandemic was once the court system stopped having jury trials insurance companies simply stopped settling cases. Liability insurance carriers took advantage of the pandemic at the expense of individuals and families who were harmed were forced to wait for their day in court. Allowing for prejudgment interest will discourage unnecessary delays and costs in personal injury litigation.

J. Mathew Dudley
President, Illinois Trial Lawyers Association