The American Tort Reform Foundation issued its annual Judicial Hellholes® report this week, naming courts in New York City, California, West Virginia, Florida, Illinois, Missouri and Louisiana among the nation’s most unfair in their handling of civil litigation.
The hard-hitting 2014-15 report shines its brightest spotlight on seven courts or areas of the country that have developed reputations as “Judicial Hellholes”. Several have become or continue to be hotbeds of asbestos litigation, even though the U.S. has long passed its epidemiological peak for mesothelioma, and even as civil courts and lawmakers in much of the rest of the country grow increasingly skeptical of a lawsuit industry that relentlessly generates new claims. But asbestos litigation comprises only a fraction of this year’s report. Courts willing to entertain preposterous consumer class actions also are highlighted. Also in focus, the dangerous trend of state attorneys general contracting with private-sector personal injury lawyers to pursue their self-interest instead of the public interest.
New York makes the top of the list for its pro-plaintiff asbestos rules, including allowing plaintiffs’ lawyers to try multiple, dissimilar cases together. California remains on the list for the troubling use of “public nuisance” law and private sector contingency-fee lawyers by district attorneys seeking to “rifle the pockets” of corporate defendants, says the report. The report also examines personal injury lawyers’ exploitation of Prop 65 and California’s consumer protection laws.
West Virginia, says the report, rarely misses an opportunity to abandon traditional tort law and adopt expansive theories of liability, and this year required certification of a class action of individuals united by the fact they suffered no injury, and permitted recovery of inflated damages for fictional medical costs. Florida continues its reputation for an unfair civil justice system, according to the report, including through judicial nullification of valid legislative tort reform, such as a law intended to ensure access to healthcare in the state by limiting subjective damages for pain and suffering in medical liability lawsuits. Missouri makes the report for outlier, liability-expanding rulings and for invalidating reasonable civil justice reforms.
Of special interest to your humble blogger, hometown Philadelphia is on the “watch list” after seeing some decline in mass tort lawsuit filings but in light of impending retirement of key judges in the mass tort program.
This year’s report again emphasizes the good news from some jurisdictions across the country. Points of Light are examples of, among other things, fair and balanced judicial decisions that adhere to the rule of law and positive legislative reforms. For example, the Iowa Supreme Court, in contrast to the Alabama Supreme Court, rejected “innovator liability,” which allows plaintiffs to sue companies that developed a brand-name drug when they took the generic version.