Subject Matter: Latest Report Names Philadelphia as the Worst of the â€˜Judicial HellholesÂ®â€™ While Courts in California West Virginia Florida Illinois New York and Nevada Also Make the List
State and local economies continue to struggle with slow growth and high
unemployment and, not coincidentally, some of those struggling the most also
suffer a high degree of lawsuit abuse, thanks to unfair judges, court rules and
underlying liability laws. The 2011/2012 edition of ATRAâ€™s Judicial Hellholes
report details and documents the latest problems in an effort to provide judges
and lawmakers a roadmap to reform. Read ATRAâ€™s news release
summarizing the report, or read the full
report (2.7MB PDF). For convenient reference, the reportâ€™s executive
summary follows below:
The 2011-2012 report shines the spotlight on eight areas of the country that
have developed reputations as Judicial Hellholes:
Philadelphia. Philadelphia hosts a disproportionate share of
Pennsylvaniaâ€™s lawsuits and, as demonstrated by this report, forum shopping for
plaintiff-friendly courts within the state is primarily a â€œPhilly phenomenon.â€
Of greatest concern is the Complex Litigation Center (CLC) in Philadelphia,
where judges have actively sought to attract personal injury lawyers from across
the state and the country. Plaintiff-friendly law, expedited procedures, a
reputation for a high plaintiff-win rate and generous awards contribute to
Philadelphiaâ€™s status as a venue of choice. Success in addressing the flow of
medical liability cases to Philadelphia and the legislatureâ€™s recent limiting of
a defendantâ€™s liability to its share of fault provide some hope for the
California. While Los Angeles historically earned a reputation as
the most plaintiff-friendly jurisdiction in the Golden State, small
business-destroying lawsuits filed by professional plaintiffs have spread
throughout California. These individuals have filed thousands of extortionate
claims against popular family-owned restaurants, book stores and salons,
demanding thousands of dollars to settle allegations of technical violations of
disabled access standards, and Californiaâ€™s courts have enabled the extortion.
Recent court decisions demonstrate that California remains friendly to consumer
lawsuits (even after voters attempted to rein in abuse), class actions, and high
awards. The California Supreme Court deserves praise for its recent rejection of
â€œphantom damages,â€ but the adverse effect of its late 2010 decision allowing
local government officials to hire private contingency-fee lawyers to enforce
state law is now becoming evident.
3 | West
Virginia. West Virginiaâ€™s high court reached well-reasoned
decisions this year when interpreting its consumer protection law and upholding
the limit on subjective pain and suffering damages in lawsuits against
healthcare providers. Such rulings, while helpful, do not address core problems
in West Virginiaâ€™s civil justice system, such as its lack of full appellate
review, liability rules that are out of the mainstream, and excessive awards.
West Virginia continues to be a haven for weak lawsuits by plaintiffs from other
states. The stateâ€™s attorney general remains under fire for running his office
as if it were a private personal injury law firm and distributing litigation
settlements to programs and organizations of his choosing, rather than the state
and its taxpayers.
4 | South
Florida. South Florida, known for its aggressive personal injury
bar, is the national epicenter of excessive and fraudulent automobile insurance
litigation and tobacco lawsuits. The stateâ€™s insufficiently rigorous standard
for admission of expert testimony contributes to its reputation as a Judicial
Hellhole. While the state legislature has made steady progress in reasonably
limiting liability in certain areas, the Florida Supreme Courtâ€™s record of
striking down such legislative efforts leaves observers cautiously optimistic at
| Madison and St. Clair Counties, Illinois. These two counties in
the Metro East have come a long way since hitting rock bottom, but there are
concerns of a relapse. For instance, this year the Illinois Supreme Court
reversed a Madison County ruling that, after a one-sided trial that favored the
plaintiff, would have imposed new liability on manufacturers. Mid-level
appellate courts threw out two class actions certified by Madison County judges.
And a tobacco lawsuit that had resulted in a $10.1 billion verdict may be back
on the Madison County docket. Similarly, after significantly culling its
asbestos docket in recent years, Madison County is again the national epicenter
for such lawsuits. Only about 1 in 10 asbestos claims have any connection to the
area. Neighboring St. Clair County has also emerged as a magnet for mesothelioma
claims and hosts lawsuits against pharmaceutical companies from around the
6 | New York
City and Albany, New York. The mayor of the Big Apple and its chief
legal officer plead for reforms that would reduce the massive liability payouts
that cost taxpayers over $500 million annually, but state legislators in Albany
remain wedded to the plaintiffsâ€™ bar. The same expansive liability that burdens
the city also takes its toll on New Yorkâ€™s businesses, such as the photography
studio being sued by a groom who was not satisfied with his wedding album and
sought to re-create the wedding after a divorce, or the White Castle patron who
brought a federal case against the restaurant when, at 290 pounds, he could no
longer comfortably fit into its booths. Offering a minor dose of sanity, New
Yorkâ€™s highest court upheld dismissal of a lawsuit, featured in the 2010-2011
report, wherein one golf pal sued another after being struck by a bad shot.
7 | Clark County,
Nevada. Since Clark Countyâ€™s May 2010 verdict that pinned a
half-billion dollars in liability for an endoscopy clinicâ€™s unsanitary, illegal
practices on a drug maker, the hits just keep on coming. Even as separate state
and federal criminal prosecutions proceed against the clinicâ€™s owner, Clark
County juries returned two more multimillion-dollar awards against the company
under the theory that it should have offered a widely-used anesthetic solely in
smaller vials to limit the potential for reuse, despite a clear warning on the
label against use for multiple patients. Some Clark County judges have kept
jurors from learning the full scope of the clinicâ€™s role in the resulting
Hepatitis outbreak when considering the drug makerâ€™s responsibility.
8 | McLean
County, Illinois. After a year of observation on the â€œWatch List,â€
McLean County advances to a Judicial Hellhole due to its unique practice of
allowing lawsuits that seek compensation for asbestos-related injuries, even
when the plaintiff did not come in contact with the named defendantâ€™s products.
These â€œcivil conspiracyâ€ lawsuits target deep-pocket companies with allegations
that they had some role in concealing the dangers of asbestos from the public
decades ago. One such McLean case recently resulted in a stunning $90 million
Beyond the Judicial Hellholes, this report calls attention to several
additional jurisdictions that also bear watching due to troubling developments
or their histories of abusive litigation. Watch List
jurisdictions fall on the cusp â€“ they may drop into the Hellholes abyss or rise
to the promise of Equal Justice Under Law.
District of Texas is known for its growing, costly patent
litigation. It is rare for this report, which traditionally focuses on state
courts, to include a federal district court.
County, Illinois falls from the Judicial Hellholes list due to a
relatively quiet year with respect to the types of unsound rulings and
extraordinary verdicts that have cemented its Hellholes reputation in the
New Jersey joins the Watch List this year, thanks in part to local
employersâ€™ fears of lawsuits there.
County, New Jersey, a magnet for massive lawsuits against the very
drug makers that form the stateâ€™s economic backbone, drops from a full Judicial
Hellhole to the Watch List, given a number of defense verdicts suggesting that
defendantsâ€™ previously miniscule chances of winning may have improved
County, Alabamaâ€™s $61 million verdict in favor of a local
manufacturer against an out-of-state software company is reason to closely watch
this rural jurisdiction.
County, Mississippi awarded the largest single-plaintiff asbestos
verdict in U.S. history, a $322 million award that the defendant has challenged
on the basis that the presiding judge did not disclose that his parents had
previously settled asbestos claims with one of the defendant companies, and his
father had a pending claim in a nearby court.
has developed a cottage industry of lawsuits against energy companies, replete
with unsubstantiated claims of environmental contamination. Over 250 of these
lawsuits have impacted about 1,500 companies with many choosing to settle rather
than risk unpredictable and financially devastating jury verdicts in local
The report awards Dishonorable Mentions to the Mississippi Supreme Court for an unsound ruling that abandons a
core principle of product liability law, and to the Arkansas Supreme
Court for striking down the stateâ€™s perfectly reasonable statutory
limit on punitive damages enacted in 2003. An appellate court and the
Missouri Supreme Court are also criticized for letting stand a
shameless class-action coupon settlement.
POINTS OF LIGHT
This yearâ€™s report enthusiastically emphasizes the good news from some of the
Judicial Hellholes and across the country. Points of Light are
examples of, among other things, positive legislative reforms and fair and
balanced judicial decisions that adhere to the rule of law.
- State legislatures enacted nearly 50 civil justice reforms in
2011. These included comprehensive tort reform packages in Wisconsin,
Tennessee, Alabama, and North Carolina, and more targeted reforms in Arizona,
Florida, Indiana, Kentucky, Missouri, North and South Dakota, Oregon,
Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Texas. Examples of such reforms include
strengthening standards that guard against junk science in the courts, ensuring
that courts do not broaden liability of landowners to those who are injured
while trespassing on their property, limiting the amount or interest rates on
pre- and post-judgment bonds, and requiring state officials to make certain
disclosures when hiring private lawyers to represent the state.
- Sound rulings by several courts, some of which are located in states that
otherwise have reputations as inhospitable to civil defendants, are particularly
worthy of note.
- The California Supreme Court rejected inflated damages for
the costs of medical treatment.
- The District of Columbiaâ€™s highest local court found that,
despite the broad language of the cityâ€™s consumer protection law, the basic
principle that a person must be harmed before bringing a lawsuit applies.
- The Illinois Supreme Court threw out a Madison County
ruling that established a new and costly duty for manufacturers to warn
consumers of remote risks of injury long after their purchase of the product.
- The West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeal upheld the
stateâ€™s limit on subjective pain and suffering awards in cases brought against
healthcare providers and facilities.
- The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit reinstated
a suit against a personal injury law firm alleging that attorneys engaged in a
scheme to file in West Virginia courts fabricated asbestos claims with no
- The California Supreme Court rejected inflated damages for
Firm/Company: Judicial Hellholes
Document Date: December 2011
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