ATRA releases updated ‘Judicial Hellholes’ list

The American Tort Reform Association recently issued this important new statement:

California Replaces Reforming Philly Atop ‘Judicial Hellholes ®’ List, Joined by Jurisdictions in West Virginia, Illinois, New York and Maryland

Reports ‘Points of Light’ Celebrate Plenty of ‘Good News’ While ‘Watch List’ Looks at Problems in Pennsylvania, Florida, Illinois, New Jersey, Nevada and Louisiana

CONTACT: Darren McKinney

Washington, DC, December 13, 2012 — With a sizeable majority of Americans concerned that an unbalanced civil justice system and excessive liability hurt economic growth, job creation and U.S. competitiveness, the American Tort Reform Association today released its annual Judicial Hellholes ® report, documenting abuses of the civil justice system in jurisdictions it says are among the most unfair and out-of-balance in the nation.

Civil courts in California top the 2012-2013 rankings of Judicial Hellholes, replacing courts in Philadelphia that, after previously ranking #1 for two consecutive years, have undertaken encouraging reforms. No significant signs of much needed reform can be found in the barely solvent Golden State, however, as preposterous consumer class actions, coercive disability access lawsuits and mounting asbestos litigation, among other problems, continue to drive businesses and jobs to less litigious neighboring states while court budgets are slashed and dockets grow evermore backlogged.

Lingering troubles with an unbalanced playing field earn West Virginia the second-place ranking, though the electoral defeat of the state’s long-serving attorney general in November indicates voters there oppose the pro-lawsuit status quo.

Madison County, Illinois earned the #3 ranking with filings of new asbestos lawsuits in the small, rural jurisdiction poised to set another record. And New York City’s mounting tort liability, thanks in part to antiquated state liability law, and an asbestos tort kingpin’s efforts to make Baltimore the new Philadelphia when it comes to asbestos litigation justify fourth- and fifth-place rankings for those Eastern Seaboard jurisdictions.

As noted above and prompted by attention from Pennsylvania’s top judge, significant reforms initiated in Philadelphia’s Complex Litigation Center this past February have obliged ATRA to “give credit where credit is due” and ease the City of Brotherly Love’s courts out of the Judicial Hellholes rankings and on to the report’s marginally less critical Watch List.

Referring respectively to the chief justice of Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court and to the Philadelphia courts’ chief administrative judge, ATRA president Tiger Joyce said, “ATRA is encouraged to know that serious-minded jurists, led by Chief Justice Ronald Castille and Judge John Herron, took our criticisms of Philadelphia as they were constructively intended. Their desire to render justice fairly for all parties with matters rightly before Philadelphia courts was the basis for the encouraging reforms we’ve seen thus far, and the courage and willingness of such judges to challenge the status quo should be an example for all Keystone State policymakers as they redouble broader reform efforts.”

“Climbing out of a judicial hellhole and staying there isn’t easy,” added Joyce. “But it has been done by other, ultimately reform-minded jurisdictions, and Philadelphia is working to join them. Assuming trial judges will live up to both the letter and spirit of Judge Herron’s [February 15] reform order, and hopeful that the much-needed capstone of venue reform will soon be added to keep lawsuits out of Pennsylvania jurisdictions where they have no business being heard, ATRA members would like to see Philadelphia stay off the Judicial Hellholes list indefinitely.”

ATRA general counsel Victor Schwartz observed, “It is a bright spot when courts, such as Philadelphia’s Complex Litigation Center, reform themselves and seek to be fair. A key point about the Judicial Hellholes project is that we simply seek a level playing field for all parties, not plaintiff- or defendant-tilted courts,” said Schwartz.

Schwartz also noted the continued progress in South Florida, which moved from the Judicial Hellholes rankings to the Watch List due to targeted legislative actions that have reined in excessive liability. “The latest achievement is reform of the state’s no-fault auto insurance law, which allowed abusive and fraudulent litigation that contributed to rising auto insurance rates.”

Rounding out this year’s Watch List are once-and-possibly-future Judicial Hellholes Cook County, Illinois, New Jersey, Nevada and Louisiana.

Moving to the “good news” celebrated by the report’s Points of Light, ATRA lauds “fair and balanced” judicial decisions made this year by five state supreme courts and a superior court in California, Illinois, Kansas, Mississippi, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Texas. Enactment of positive legislative reforms in Alabama, Arizona, Iowa, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio, Rhode Island, Tennessee, and Wisconsin also are singled out for kudos.

“As anemic economic growth and high unemployment continue to plague much of the country, many governors and state legislators were again determined to make their states more competitive and attractive to employers,” Joyce observed. “Considering that employers consider litigation environments when deciding where to expand or relocate, it’s no surprise that a variety of tort reform measures figured prominently in policymakers’ pro-growth, job-creation agendas.”

Finally, this year’s Judicial Hellholes report, for the first time, scrutinizes some of the “worst and best” federal appellate court decisions. “The innovation is in the criteria for determining whether a federal appellate court decision is sound or unsound,” explained Schwartz. “Did the appellate court follow the instructions of the U.S. Supreme Court; did the court properly apply the applicable state law; and did a federal court, as is sometimes the case with state courts in Judicial Hellholes, interpret the law expansively in a way that allows abusive litigation?”

Full text of the thoroughly documented 48-page Judicial Hellholes report and year-round updates are posted at For easy reference, an executive summary of the 2012-2013 report follows immediately below.

Click here for more information.

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