The year end brings all manner of lists. The latest ranking of America’s “most unfair jurisdictions” in which to be sued has been revealed in the American Tort Reform Foundation’s Judicial Hellholes® 2009/2010 report. South Florida is this year’s top “judicial hellhole,” reclaiming a title that it lost in 2008 to West Virginia. According to the American Tort Reform Association, “Judicial Hellholes” are places where judges systematically apply laws and court procedures in an inequitable manner, generally against defendants in civil lawsuits. In this eighth annual report, ATRF shines the spotlight on six areas of the country that it says have developed unenviable reputations.
#1 SOUTH FLORIDA
South Florida is listed for its medical malpractice claims, tobacco lawsuits, and large verdicts, according to ATRF. Florida is listed as one of the few states that allow those who drive under the influence of alcohol or drugs to sue the automobile manufacturer for failing to prevent their injuries by designing a safer car, while hiding from the jury the driver’s responsibility for the crash.
#2 WEST VIRGINIA
West Virginia is listed due to the state’s unique lack of appellate review; elected judges’ hostility to out-of-state corporations; unusual trial practices; and the novel, liability-expanding decisions of its high court, according to the Association.
# 3 COOK COUNTY, ILLINOIS
Cook County is Illinois’ center of litigation, hosting 65 percent of the state’s lawsuits.
# 4 ATLANTIC COUNTY, NEW JERSEY
Atlantic County has been identified as a Judicial Hellhole since 2007 in large part because it serves as a center for mass tort actions, often directed at one of the state’s own economic generators, pharmaceutical manufacturers, says the Association. Ninety-three percent of plaintiffs in New Jersey’s pharmaceutical mass torts come from outside the state.
# 5 NEW MEXICO APPELLATE COURTS
# 6 NEW YORK CITY
Beyond the Judicial Hellholes, this report calls attention to several additional jurisdictions that ATRF says also bear watching, including California, Alabama, and Jefferson County, Mississippi.
The Report also highlights good news for defendants, including the recommendation of an independent commission established by West Virginia Gov. Manchin that the state establish an intermediate appellate court and provide litigants with a right to an appeal; the Maryland Court of Appeals decision limiting non-economic damages in all civil claims, preventing plaintiffs’ lawyers from circumventing the law by characterizing personal-injury lawsuits as consumer protection actions; Arizona’s enactment of medical liability reform; Oklahoma’s passage of a comprehensive tort reform package; and the Texas legislature’s resistance to trial lawyer efforts to roll back the substantial progress made in the state in recent years.