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2016/2017 Preface

Since 2002, the American Tort Reform Foundation’s (ATRF) Judicial Hellholes® program has identified and documented problems in jurisdictions where judges in civil cases systematically apply laws and court procedures in an unfair and unbalanced manner, generally to the disadvantage of defendants. More recently, as the lawsuit industry began aggressively seeking expansions of civil liability not only from the judicial branch but from the legislative and executive (regulatory) branches of government, too, the Judicial Hellholes report has evolved to include such law- and rule-making activity, much of which can significantly affect the fairness of civil litigation.

The content of this report builds off the American Tort Reform Association’s (ATRA) real-time monitoring of Judicial Hellholes activity year-round at It reflects feedback gathered from ATRA members and other firsthand sources. And because the program has become widely known, ATRA also continually receives tips and additional information, which are then researched independently through publicly available court documents, judicial branch statistics, press accounts, scholarship and studies.

Though entire states are occasionally cited as Hellholes, specific counties or courts in a given state more typically warrant such citations. Importantly, civil court jurisdictions singled out by Judicial Hellholes reporting are not the only unfair jurisdictions in the United States; they are simply among the worst. The goal of the program is to shine a light on imbalances in the courts and thereby encourage positive reforms by judges themselves and, when needed, through legislative action or the ballot box.