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Tell on a Hellhole

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2012/2013 Preface

Since 2002 the American Tort Reform Foundation’s Judicial Hellholes® program has identified and documented in annually published reports (and more recently year round) places where judges in civil cases systematically apply laws and court procedures in an unfair and unbalanced manner, generally against defendants. Since the lawsuit industry has now begun aggressively lobbying for legislative and regulatory expansions of liability, as well, Judicial Hellholes reporting also has evolved to include such law- and rule-making activity, much of which can affect the fairness of a state’s lawsuit climate as readily as judicial actions.

A recent national survey of registered voters conducted by the American Tort Reform Association (ATRA) and the grassroots Sick of Lawsuits campaign reaffirms the public’s concern about an unbalanced civil justice system that imposes excessive liability, hurting economic growth, job creation and U.S. competitiveness. For example, the survey found that more than two-thirds of Americans believe that “our country’s liability lawsuit system makes it harder for employers to do business and succeed,” while more than 8 in 10 feel that the liability system needs to be improved. Particularly relevant to soaring healthcare costs and the availability of care, three-quarters of survey respondents say there must be reasonable limits placed on subjective awards for pain and suffering, which, as noted in this edition, were this year upheld by the Kansas Supreme Court and struck down by the Missouri Supreme Court.

Though entire states are occasionally cited as Hellholes, it is usually only specific counties or courts in a given state that warrant this citation. And, importantly, jurisdictions singled out by Judicial Hellholes reporting are not the only Judicial Hellholes in the United States; they are simply among the worst.

This annual Judicial Hellholes report compiles the most significant court rulings and legislative actions over the course of the year as documented in real-time online. The report also reflects feedback gathered from ATRA members (in an annual survey) and other firsthand sources. Because the program has become widely known, ATRA also continually receives information provided by way of its Judicial Hellholes website and other means. After interviewing such sources, Judicial Hellholes reporters work to confirm the information with independent research of publicly-available court documents, judicial branch statistics, press accounts and various studies.

To the extent possible, ATRF is specific in explaining how and why particular courts, laws or regulations can produce unfair civil justice outcomes in the jurisdictions cited. These states, cities, counties or judicial districts are frequently identified by ATRA members and other individuals familiar with the litigation. But because sources for Judicial Hellholes information may fear lawsuits or other retaliation in these jurisdictions, they sometimes prefer to have their names and cases kept out of the program’s reporting.

(The Judicial Hellholes program considers only civil litigation; it does not reflect in any way on the criminal justice system.)

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