Every day our every Chicago medical malpractice lawyer at our firm is forced to read new stories that ridicule, distort, skew, and sometimes just plain lie about the civil justice system in our state and throughout the country. The inaccuracies about how the judicial system works, who uses it, and its effects are one of the main reasons why downright dangerous tort reform policy proposals have advanced in many parts of the country. As with anything, if you use bad data to create a policy, the result will be similarly bad. It is one thing for falsehoods to be spread about the civil justice system, it is another for those falsehoods be used as a basis to take away legal rights for all victims and fundamentally change the way that the legal system.
One of the most high-profile producers of this “bad data” about Illinois medical malpractice lawsuits (and the justice system generally) is the so-called “Judicial Hellhole” designations by the American Tort Reform Association. The group pretends to use objective, fair and accurate assessments about certain circuits to create lists of what it perceives to be the locations most favorable to plaintiffs in civil lawsuits. The general assumption is that if injury victims win too many cases in a certain area than it must be caused by something wrong with the judicial system in that area.
Likely because of the provocative name, many media outlets report on this list, which always includes a few downstate counties (Madison & St. Clair) as well as Cook County. Under whatever criteria the group decided to use this year, Cook somehow made the “Watch List” instead of the actual “Judicial Hellhole” list. Of course, these designations make little sense as they are based exclusively on the whim of the few anti-victims’ rights members of the group which creates the list.
As the president of the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association explained, these lists are not only supremely misleading, but they have very real effects on the jury pool. He explained that the public inaccuracies on how the justice system works leads many community members entering a jury pool with preconceived notions about the legal realities of civil lawsuits. Of course, the public perception about the system as a whole is completely devoid of acknowledgement that each case is decided on the facts of that particular case. Beliefs about the justice system as a whole are irrelevant to the resolution of each case.
In other words, in the medical malpractice context, when a jury hears a case, they should never be swayed in their determination about whether negligence has been committed based on whether they think that medical malpractice damage caps need to be instituted. Instead, the entire justice system is premised on the notion that the jurors will simply take into account the specific evidence that is allowed to be presented at trial, match that up with the law, and reach a verdict. Efforts to effect those case-by-case determinations with information beyond the facts of the case are damaging. It is disappointing that those who work in the legal field and should know better continue to engage in silly publicity efforts that have that damaging distortion effect.
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