The American Tort Reform Association this week released its latest Judicial Hellholes report, identifying civil courts in Philadelphia, California's Los Angeles and Humboldt counties, West Virginia, South Florida, Cook County, Ill., and Clark County, Nev. as some of the worst in the nation. The report represents a compilation of many of the judicial excesses readers will already be familiar with, but there's always something new and it's a well-written document.
Philadelphia's transgressions are definitely noteworthy. Incredibly, there's an actual strategy to encourage more litigation as a form of local "economic development." From ATRA's news release:
Philadelphia is a source of great concern due to the philosophy and trial practices of its Complex Litigation Center, as well as the area's reputation for excessive verdicts. The judicial leadership is engaged in a campaign to draw in massive personal injury lawsuits from around the country, viewing the increase in lawsuits and out-of-town lawyers as a boost for the court's revenues and the local restaurants and hotels. Controversial practices, such as "reverse bifurcation," unfairness in multiple trials against the same defendant at the same time, and combining multiple cases into a single trial provide incentives for plaintiffs' lawyers to bring their claims to the City of Brotherly Love. Punitive damage awards over $1 million have reportedly tripled in Philadelphia courts. State tort law that is out of the mainstream further encourages lawsuits.
Pennsylvania's new governor is a Republican, Tom Corbett, and with Republicans also in control of both chambers of the Legislature, the likelihood of tort reform rises.
As is its wont, the American Association for Justice responded to the report -- prebutted, in this case -- by attacking ATRA's presumed funders as corporate malefactors. The statement is hack lamework that makes no attempt to persuade.
But to end on a positive notes, here are ATRA's Points of Lights:
- The Florida Legislature addressed three practices that contributed to the state's poor litigation climate: the lax standard of proof for slip-and-fall cases, the inability of parents to sign waivers of liability so their children could participate in activities with some inherent risk of injury, and the need for transparency in the hiring of private lawyers to represent the state;
- West Virginia Judge Arthur Recht, after reflecting on recent instances of documented fraud in asbestos litigation, put in place various safeguards for cases filed in his court; and
- The Maryland Court of Appeals upheld the state's statutory limit on subjective pain and suffering awards applied in personal injury cases, providing an example for other courts and legislatures.