Calling for a Cap on Nuclear Verdicts in Illinois: A Path to Fairness and Economic Stability


The recent surge in nuclear verdicts, defined as jury awards exceeding $10 million, has sent shockwaves through Illinois’ legal landscape. A study by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce found that Illinois ranked sixth among states for the number of nuclear verdicts in personal injury and wrongful death cases, with Cook County Circuit Court hosting the majority of these cases. While the intention behind such verdicts may be to provide justice to victims, the repercussions are increasingly detrimental.

The Rising Tide of Nuclear Verdicts

Nuclear verdicts have been steadily increasing both in frequency and amount over the past decade. The study revealed a 27.5% median increase in nuclear verdicts, far surpassing inflation rates. These verdicts can devastate businesses, industries, and society as a whole, even if they are later overturned or significantly reduced on appeal. They drive up the costs of goods and services, affect insurance availability and affordability, and undermine the fundamental fairness and predictability of the legal system.

Understanding the Causes

Several factors contribute to the rise of nuclear verdicts. In the courtroom, plaintiff lawyers often employ tactics that manipulate juror behavior and inflate damages. These tactics include the “reptile theory,” designed to instill fear in jurors, and suggesting specific, exorbitant damage awards, influencing juror decisions. Outside the courtroom, plaintiffs’ law firms inundate the public with lawsuit advertisements that highlight extraordinary verdicts, shaping potential jurors’ views of appropriate compensation. Additionally, third-party litigation funding further drives up award demands, making negotiating settlements more challenging.

Real-World Implications

The consequences of increasing nuclear verdicts extend beyond the legal realm. These verdicts contribute to rising costs for everyday items and services, affecting food, housing, and medical care expenses. They can lead to insurability issues, threaten businesses and jobs, inhibit economic growth, strain judicial resources, and erode confidence in the rule of law. Unchecked nuclear verdicts have far-reaching adverse impacts on society.

Recommendations for Reform

Addressing the nuclear verdict issue requires a multi-faceted approach. Legislators in Illinois should consider adopting various reforms, many of which have been outlined in the Institute for Legal Reform’s recommendations. These reforms should target the root causes of nuclear verdicts, including:

  1. Preventing Inflated Damage Awards: Illinois can implement civil justice reforms that reduce the likelihood of inflated damage awards by strengthening standards for screening unreliable scientific evidence and prohibiting manipulative trial lawyer tactics.
  2. Transparency and Accountability: Legislatures can require transparency regarding third-party litigation funding and regulate misleading practices in lawsuit advertisements.
  3. Response to Unjust Awards: Illinois should be prepared to respond to unjust nuclear verdicts, ensuring that they do not place undue burdens on businesses and industries.

Illinois is at a crossroads when it comes to nuclear verdicts. While the desire for justice is noble, the unchecked proliferation of these verdicts threatens the state’s economic stability and the very fabric of its legal system. Capping nuclear verdicts is a reasonable and necessary step to address this issue. By doing so, Illinois can restore fairness, predictability, and confidence in its legal system while safeguarding businesses, industries, and the livelihoods of its residents. It’s time to take action and strike a balance between justice and economic stability.