Nobody likes taxes— but everyone wants a qualified air traffic controller.
At tax time we complain. But it's important to remember why we pay taxes. We want our garbage hauled away. We want the fi re department and the police nearby. We hate potholes. We want clean water, fresh air, and beautiful parks. We want someone to make sure the medicines we use are safe. We want qualified air traffic controllers. We know these things are not free, but we still complain about taxes.
The State of Oklahoma just passed a “loser pays” rule for all civil suits. This is how it happened: there was a bill with strong bi-partisan support to establish a statute of limitations for sexual abuse cases. Then at the last minute, an amendment was tacked on which requires the court to award costs and attorney's fees to the prevailing party in ALL civil suits — not just sexual abuse cases. There was no committee discussion of this amendment – no floor debate – it passed 44-0 in the Senate and 92-2 in the house. Then the bill was quickly signed by the Oklahoma governor. And now the people of Oklahoma have something rich people and corporations have wanted for a long time. Now in Oklahoma, the courts belong to the rich.
Imagine that your neighbor is Bill Gates and he decides to build an addition onto his big house. Imagine that his contractor excavates in a way that undermines your foundation and causes damage to your home that will cost $500,000 to repair. Would you sue him? In Illinois, you would. Not in Oklahoma. With his $87 billion net worth, Bill Gates can lose $500,000 in his sock drawer. If he loses the case and pays you and your lawyer – so what? It might just amuse him to hire some high-priced law firm to see if he can win and bankrupt you in the process. Maybe he has been wanting to tear down your house anyway? With loser pays, rich guys win – the rest of us don't even get to play.
The lawyers in Oklahoma will soon be shutting down their practices. Only the biggest disputes will be litigated by the richest people and corporations. Little people will have no access to the courts. The injured can turn to Medicaid. Lawyers that represent little people can look for another line of work. The corporate lawyers will keep working. Trial lawyers can drive for Uber.
Do you sometimes complain about your ITLA dues like they're an annoying tax? In Illinois, ITLA stands guard. Amendments that gut access to the courts don't slip in unnoticed. We have a team of professionals and dedicated trial lawyers on watch – always. This costs money. Pay your taxes. Support ITLA, however, you can and resolve yourself to fight this fight to your last breath. They won't stop coming for us. Well then – let them come. Christopher T. Hurley, President Illinois Trial Lawyers Association