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Legal Hotspots Unveiled In 2023-2024 Judicial Hellholes® Report
Georgia and Pennsylvania Courts Top List, Litigation Tourism Burdens Judicial System
Today, the American Tort Reform Foundation reveals the nation’s most tumultuous legal landscapes with the release of its highly anticipated 2023-2024 Judicial Hellholes® report.
This year’s report unveils an unprecedented scenario. Both Georgia and Pennsylvania’s courts, specifically the Pennsylvania Supreme Court and the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas, share the unfortunate distinction of jointly being named the year’s No. 1 Judicial Hellholes®.
The annual exposé analyzes alarming trends across the U.S. civil justice system and unveils the nine worst Judicial Hellholes® in the nation.
2023-2024 Judicial Hellholes®:
#8 St. Louis
In a year marked by legal upheavals, ATRF’s report spotlights a grim reality: Judicial Hellholes® nationwide swing open their courtroom doors to out-of-state plaintiffs and their lawyers, allowing them to take advantage of these courts’ reputations for nuclear verdicts and expanding liability.
“Plaintiffs flood the courts of their choice, even if that court’s jurisdiction has no real connection to the case,” Tiger Joyce, president of the American Tort Reform Association said. “The result is overburdened courts with drained resources. While it may benefit traveling trial lawyers, the reality is that people who actually live in these Judicial Hellholes® pay the price.”
Excessive tort costs to the U.S. economy result in an annual “tort tax” of more than $1,424 paid by every American — nearly $6,000 every year for a family of four. In many Judicial Hellholes®, these figures are even more bleak.
ATRF’s report also provides analysis and perspective on national trends, like the U.S. Supreme Court’s Mallory decision this summer, which expanded certain state courts’ jurisdiction over out-of-state companies.
“The impact of the Supreme Court’s decision in the Mallory case cannot be overstated,” Joyce said. “The Court missed a crucial opportunity this year to rein in litigation tourism, inadvertently opening the floodgates to file lawsuits in plaintiff-friendly courts with no direct tie to a claim. This ruling paves the way for trial lawyers to contribute to a climate of forum shopping, threatening to overwhelm courts in Georgia, Pennsylvania, St. Louis, and New York City. Regrettably, the Supreme Court played a hand in the mounting difficulties of securing a fair and impartial trial in Judicial Hellholes®.”
The U.S. Supreme Court also had a chance to weigh in on “serial testers” of the Americans with Disabilities Act this year – individuals who file duplicative lawsuits claiming various violations of the ADA. The ADA was intended to ensure public places’ accessibility, but ATRF points to Judicial Hellholes® like California and New York City where ADA lawsuits are exploited for financial gain. Ultimately, the plaintiff voluntarily dismissed the case; it’s unclear whether the Supreme Court will issue an opinion.
Lawsuits that abuse the ADA contribute to a broader trend in Judicial Hellholes® —a failure to claim any actual injury, thus challenging the basic tenets of tort law. In California, New York City, and Cook County, Illinois, these “no-injury” lawsuits are particularly prevalent, which ATRF says threatens businesses.
“Our legal system should promote fairness and support economic progress — not be a breeding ground for forum shopping and excessive verdicts,” Joyce said.
ATRF further points to Judicial Hellholes® handing down excessive, “nuclear” verdicts — those exceeding $10 million. The Foundation says tactics like “anchoring” are partially to blame for this surge. Anchoring, while only permitted in some jurisdictions, including Georgia, Missouri, and New York, involves a trial attorney providing an excessively high “anchor” number to a jury to consider when determining damage awards.
“These multi-million-dollar, nuclear verdicts, while often fueled by temporary emotional outrage, lead to higher insurance rates, increased consumer costs, and job loss in the long term,” Joyce said.
The rapid expansion of premises liability laws poses unique challenges in several Judicial Hellholes®, including Georgia, Pennsylvania, and New York City, in which businesses might be liable for criminal acts beyond their control. This is illustrated in a Georgia case against CVS Pharmacy, involving a shooting in a store parking lot during a criminal act. The Georgia Supreme Court embraced an overly broad test for “foreseeability” and expanded liability for property owners when it upheld a staggering $45 million damage award which assigned 95% of liability to CVS, 5% to the plaintiff, and zero liability to the shooter.
ATRF says this evolution creates legal uncertainty for property owners and may result in store closures, particularly in high-crime areas. Michigan’s Supreme Court also expanded premises liability for property owners, which the Foundation expects to lead to an increase in slip-and-fall lawsuits in the Great Lakes State.
Third-party litigation financing, spotlighted by Congress this year, also leads to predatory lawsuit lending in many of the nation’s Judicial Hellholes®. The practice involves investors buying an interest in the outcome of a lawsuit, but raises ethical concerns, like threatening lawyers’ independent judgment if a funder can influence litigation or settlement decisions.
The report includes a carefully ranked “Watch List” including Kentucky, New Jersey, and Texas’s Court of Appeals for the Fifth District. Additionally, the two “Closer Looks” delve into the expansion of state wrongful death acts and the concerning rise of litigation tourism considering the Supreme Court’s Mallory decision.
To dive deeper into the findings and access the full 2023-2024 Judicial Hellholes® report, visit JudicialHellholes.org.
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