WASHINGTON (Legal Newsline) — South Dakota has the best legal climate in the United States, according to the results of a national survey released this week.
The ranking was a new one for the state, which edged out Delaware the survey, dubbed the "2017 Lawsuit Climate Survey: Ranking the States," which was conducted by Harris Poll and the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform, which owns Legal Newsline.
This year is first time in the annual poll's 15-year history that South Dakota ranked No. 1, according to a statement by the ILR. Delaware had made the top spot in every previous survey, which was first conducted in 2002.
The survey includes overall improvement in state lawsuit climates, while competition among states is "tightening," according to the statement.
"The difference between states’ individual scores is the smallest it has ever been, meaning that states are competing harder than ever to improve their litigation environments," the ILR said.
It is a race that won't let up, Lisa A. Rickard, president of the ILR, said in the statement.
"If this were a marathon, the pack of runners would be tightening and running faster," she said. "States not keeping up on legal reform are being passed by."
Overall improvement doesn’t mean states have achieved a healthy lawsuit climate, Rickard said.
"There’s been progress, but let’s not kid ourselves," she said. "The 'sue 'em' culture in the U.S. is still the world’s worst."
The survey also revealed a considerable race for the bottom with Louisiana ranking 50th behind Missouri, a first and all-time low for Louisiana in the annual survey. Illinois came in 48th behind 47th-ranked California.
California was especially targeted in a video released by Faces of Lawsuit Abuse, a project of the ILR.
"California, your courts are stuffed with lawsuits from people who don't even live there," an actor portraying celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay says in the video.
"They're awarding ridiculous sums of money. Most of it goes to lawyers, and you let in frivolous cases that most courts would toss out."
Chicago and Cook County, Ill. ranked as the worst local jurisdiction, with 24 percent of those surveyed saying the jurisdiction is home to the nation's least-fair courts, according to the ILR's statement. Other jurisdictions that ranked among the worst include Los Angeles; Jefferson County, Texas; New Orleans and Orleans Parish; and Detroit.
Survey participants included 1,203 in-house general counsels, senior litigators or attorneys and other senior executives at companies with annual revenues of at least $100 million who said they knew about litigation matters, according to the survey.
Participants were reached through more than 1,300 telephone and online interviews between March 31 and June 26, which asked for rankings about topics such as fairness of a given state's lawsuit environments in 10 categories, including state laws, courts, judges and juries.
The ILR also issued the 2017 edition of its "101 Ways to Improve State Legal Systems," a listing of key legal reforms that states can adopt to improve their lawsuit climates.
The ILR seeks to promote civil justice reform through legislative, political, judicial and educational activities at the national, state and local levels.