The American Tort Reform Foundation recently published its report identifying the top “judicial Hellholes” for 2015-16.
The top (or bottom?) jurisdictions are California, NY (asbestos), Florida, Missouri, Madison County, Ill., Louisiana, Hidalgo County, Texas, Newport News, Virginia. and the Eastern District of Texas.
The “watch list” includes West Virginia, Philadelphia (your humble blogger’s home base), New Jersey, and Pottawatomie County, Oklahoma.
According to the ATRF, California is the epicenter for lawyers trolling to bring disability access lawsuits against small businesses and ridiculous class action lawsuits against food and beverage companies. Certain areas of the state are also a hotbed for asbestos litigation. Local district attorneys and government agencies have taken it upon themselves to partner with private contingency fee lawyers, leading them to bring novel claims against makers of paint and prescription drugs.
New York City is listed for its ongoing treatment of the asbestos mass tort.
Florida ranks next because, according the ATRF, the Florida Supreme Court issues liability-expanding rulings that are out of sync with courts in the rest of the country. Even when the state legislature, which is heavily influenced by trial lawyers, manages to enact reforms, the state’s high court “nullifies them in favor of boundless liability in the Sunshine State.”
Our home base makes the watch list since the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas hosts one of the largest mass tort dockets in the nation. The court effectively withdrew its open invitation to lawsuits from around the country with the adoption of some procedural reforms in 2012, but the jurisdiction is again experiencing a rise in out-of-state pharmaceutical claims, notes ATRF. Changes on the state high court that could favor plaintiffs, the state’s embattled attorney general’s alliance with private plaintiffs’ lawyers, and a doubling of disability access lawsuits are additional reasons for concern in the Keystone State, says ATRF.
This year’s report also includes a discussion of the MDL process, noting the increase in the portion of the federal court docket that is in an MDL. ATRF states that when the MDL discovery process is concluded, judges often follow a practice of selecting “bellwether” claimants for trial. The selection process can take many forms, including allowing each side to identify cases for trial. In some
instances, however, plaintiffs’ lawyers will simply dismiss the cases chosen by the defendant (or even cases selected by plaintiffs themselves) on the theory that they will be the weakest with respect to success on the merits. The plaintiffs’ lawyers try to select what they perceive to be their “best” cases as bellwethers, rather than representative cases, and when transferee judges have not performed any sort of gatekeeping function, neither the court nor the parties are in a position to know whether the bellwethers are in any way representative of many other claimants in the pool, argues ATRF.