We posted before about potentially important changes in the administrative rules for Philadelphia's busy mass tort system. General Court Regulation No. 2012-01 represented the first general overhaul of the Complex Litigation Center’s practices in many years. The order was designed to revise and streamline the conduct of mass tort litigation in Philadelphia in a number of ways. The order noted the pronounced upward trend in mass tort filings in this court, and the fact that the court’s disposition rate had not kept pace with filings; thus, a significant backlog developed. The order noted the impact of past policy which invited the filing of cases from other jurisdictions. A "dramatic increase in these filings" occurred after the court’s leadership invited claims from other jurisdictions.
In a recent report to the mass tort bar, Administrative Judge Herron of the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas noted a significant percent reduction in mass tort filings from 2011 to 2012. There were 70% fewer filings in 2012 than 2011. The overall inventory of mass tort cases declined by about 12%. Out-of-state filings declined slightly by percentage, and discovery disputes also declined, while settlement activity reportedly increased. The court thus indicated that the revised protocols would be continued.
While there are a number of factors that could impact filing rates, the decline in filings is significant, and it is hard to escape the conclusion that new protocols must have had some impact. Judge Herron labeled the changes an "exceptional result" leading to a much more manageable number for the court. Of the 2012 filings, 489 were pharmaceutical cases and 327 were asbestos, according to the court statistics.
The court also disposed of more cases than new cases were filed, contributing to the decease in inventory. The new protocols encourage mediation of cases before former state and federal judges.