CHICAGO (CBS) — Cook County has a problem, a lawsuit problem.
The 2 Investigators found the county has spent more than $186 million to settle or satisfy 2,100 lawsuits since 2012. The payouts are expected to soar in the coming years. That’s because there’s an additional 650 pending lawsuits in the pipeline.
“We’ve got to reform this litigation process that’s out of control,” says Cook County Commissioner Richard Boykin. “It’s costing taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars.”
A majority of the county’s payouts, more than $120 million, involved the health and hospital system.
Other notable totals include $27.5 million for lawsuits relating to the jail; $458,750 to resolve sexual harassment claims; and $529,000 to settle lawsuits from employees alleging they were wrongfully fired by Cook County Assessor Joe Berrios.
Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart runs the jail, one of the largest in the country.
He says many of the suits, filed by inmates, are without merit, noting it’s often less expensive to settle the claim, rather than pay to mount a defense.
“If you look at the actual substance of the lawsuits, a lot of them have to do with conditions,” Dart says. “Like there’s cobwebs in the cell, there’s spiders. Things along those lines.”
“Like many governments, Cook County often finds itself as a defendant in lawsuits,” says a spokesperson for Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle. “Whether allegations in these suits involve the jail or the Health and Hospitals System, we believe County employees are dedicated to performing their duties safely and professionally, attributes we will continue to stress with — while at the same time demanding accountability from — our workforce.”