This op-ed was originally published by Agri-Pulse. Mass tort litigation has become a multi-billion-dollar industry for trial lawyers over the past several decades as they’ve targeted everything from tobacco and […]
Nuclear Verdicts Explode in No. 1 Judicial Hellhole Georgia
Recording-breaking $1.7 billion verdict doled out while residents pay $1,111 annual “tort tax”
Georgia was named the worst “Judicial Hellhole®” in the country today, according to a new report from the American Tort Reform Foundation (ATRF). It’s the first time in the report’s 21-year history that Georgia has received this designation.
“Georgia’s lawsuit climate has been deteriorating for years and reached a fever pitch in 2022 following a $1.7 billion nuclear verdict,” American Tort Reform Association President Tiger Joyce said.
ATRF expanded the “Judicial Hellhole” designation from the Georgia Supreme Court, ranked at No. 3 last year, to the entire state of Georgia. The report observes that the state Supreme Court points to the General Assembly as the appropriate branch to handle growing policy concerns, and while the legislature has made some reforms to the state’s civil justice system, it plainly requires many improvements.
Georgia is experiencing a surge in excessive and high-dollar “nuclear verdicts” in a range of cases. ATRF says nuclear verdicts are especially common in cases targeting the trucking industry and in premises liability cases that blame businesses for criminal conduct by other parties on or near their property.
The state even saw its highest ever punitive damage award this year when a Gwinnett County jury returned a $1.7 billion punitive damage verdict against Ford Motor Co. ATRF says the case was riddled with biased rulings and ethical concerns, including the trial lawyers puppeteering an “unofficial” and “private” autopsy.
The lawyer on the Ford case was notorious Georgia trial lawyer, James Butler Jr. who has donated tens of thousands of dollars to the campaigns of Georgia judges.
“It’s now clear that in Georgia, trial lawyers who cozy up to judges are cashing in on nuclear verdicts to pad their pocketbooks – even if it is to the detriment of their community’s economy overall,” Joyce said.
With inflation at an all-time high, Georgia residents pay an annual “tort tax” of $1,111 per person and 117,809 jobs are lost each year due to excessive tort costs, making lawsuit abuse a driving factor in economic strain for families.
ATRF says third-party litigation financing is a driving force behind nuclear verdicts and
is also leading to predatory lawsuit lending in Georgia. The state Supreme Court declined to restrict third-party litigation financing, making it easier for funders to operate in the state. The legislature has yet to address the practice.
“The Georgia Supreme Court and the state General Assembly have got to stop kicking the reform can back and forth and address this litigation crisis to protect vulnerable consumers and impoverished communities,” Joyce said.
The 2022-2023 Judicial Hellholes® report also cites Georgia’s reluctance to modernize the state’s seatbelt gag rule, the state Supreme Court’s expansion of product liability and their refusal to adopt the time- and resource-saving apex doctrine as further factors behind the top ranking. They’ve also now ruled that a losing party in litigation may have to pay attorneys’ fees twice.
The 2022-2023 Judicial Hellholes® are:
- The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania and the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas
- New York
- Cook County, Illinois
- South Carolina Asbestos Litigation
- St. Louis
The full report is available at JudicialHellholes.org.
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