#1 FLORIDA The Florida Supreme Court’s liability-expanding decisions and barely contained contempt for the lawmaking authority of legislators and the governor has repeatedly led to its inclusion in this report. And though the high court’s plaintiff-friendly majority this year shrunk from 5-2 to 4-3, a hushed discussion between two majority justices recently caught by an open microphone suggests that this majority is as partisan as ever and brazenly determined to in uence the judicial selection process as three like-minded colleagues face mandatory retirement in early 2019.
Meanwhile, an aggressive personal injury bar’s fraudulent and abusive practices in South Florida and elsewhere have also tarnished the state’s reputation. Encouragingly, at least some plaintiffs’ lawyers who’ve crossed the line are being held accountable, either with sti court sanctions or criminal prosecutions. But with the help of some lawmakers, too many are still get- ting away with too much, and for the rst time in this report’s 16-year history, enough shade has been cast on the Sunshine State to rank it as the nation’s worst Judicial Hellhole.
#2 CALIFORNIA If most lawmakers in Sacramento and the reliably generous plaintiffs’ lawyers who write campaign checks to keep them there can be likened to the Symbionese Liberation Army of the Berkeley-radical 1970s, then most California voters can be likened to the Stockholm syndrome-suffering heiress Patty Hearst, coming to love their captors even as hundreds of new laws – many of them designed speci cally to expand civil liability on business and property owners – are enacted each year.
A lengthy, stand-alone book could be written every year about California’s inexorable expansions of civil liability. But because this report’s constructive criticisms seem to fall largely on deaf ears in Sacramento and in many courthouses around the state, this year’s look at the West Coast’s perennial Judicial Hellhole will pragmatically limit its focus to an armful of the state’s civil injustices, including precedent-defying state supreme court decisions, the Private Attorneys General Act, Prop 65, food and beverage litigation, innovator liability, the California Environmental Quality Act’s impact on a ordable housing, courts’ expansions of public nuisance law and natural disaster-chasing personal injury lawyers, among others.
#3 ST. LOUIS, MISSOURI As Bloomberg has reported, St. Louis civil courts are known for “fast trials, favorable rulings, and big awards.” But by virtue of a change in gubernatorial leadership, a good start by state lawmakers on an agenda of much needed statutory reforms and a powerful U.S. Supreme Court decision curbing forum shopping in 2017, the City of St. Louis Circuit Court can no longer be fairly ranked as the nation’s worst Judicial Hellhole, as it was a year ago. But much more work must be done to improve further the civil justice climate in St. Louis and the rest of the “Show Me Your Lawsuits State.”
#4 NYCAL Since 2013 the Judicial Hellholes report has faithfully if discouragingly reported in great detail on the continuingly corrupt and brazenly plaintiff-favoring ways of New York City’s Asbestos Litigation court known as NYCAL. But rather than provide another historically comprehensive analysis of all the unseemly self-dealing that has long sullied NYCAL’s reputation and otherwise results in extraordinarily good outcomes for asbestos plaintiffs and their lawyers relative to outcomes in other jurisdictions nationwide, this year’s report focuses largely on a much anticipated and ultimately disappointing new Case Management Order (CMO), which will govern the handling of cases going forward, pending an appeal.
#5 PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA The Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas has long been known nationally center for products liability litigation. The court’s Complex Litigation Center (CLC) hosts a mass torts program that attracts drug, medical device and asbestos cases from across the county. The CLC had undertaken reforms and, in recent years, seemed to become less welcoming to out-of-state plaintiffs. But a surge of new lawsuits and a string of multimillion dollar verdicts have sadly returned “The City of Unbrotherly Torts” to the ranks of Judicial Hellholes.
#6 NEW JERSEY As New Jersey Supreme Court Justice Barry T. Albin explained to defense counsel during 2016 oral arguments in an appeal of a case based wholly on junk science, out-of-state plaintiffs “like our evidence rules, they like our expert witness rules … .” at was an understatement. Plaintiffs and their lawyers also like the Garden State’s continuing hostility to arbitration agreements, which effectively ignores clear guidance from the U.S. Supreme Court. And plaintiffs from across the country love the state high court’s willingness to apply New Jersey’s longer-running statute of limitations to product liability claims. But the state’s justices did tap the brakes on runaway, if preposterous consumer class actions this year, and they’ll soon have the chance to revisit (and strengthen) New Jersey’s lax standard for the admission of expert testimony.
#7 MADISON AND COOK COUNTIES, ILLINOIS Madison and Cook counties have become perennial Judicial Hellholes known for disproportionate volumes of litigation and large verdicts. plaintiff-friendly judges seem to dominate both jurisdictions in which defendants face uphill battles from their very rst motions. And with the most relevant local and state politicians comfortably in cahoots with the powerful plaintiffs’ bar, prospects for positive reforms remain remote, even as these jurisdictions’ hyper-litigiousness works against economic growth and job creation, and makes it harder for both government and businesses to nd a ordable insurance.
#8 LOUISIANA The Pelican State’s legal climate has su ered for decades at the hands of powerful trial attorneys and the politicians they control. Plaintiff-friendly courts, excessive jury verdicts, problematic venue laws, widespread judicial misconduct, a lack of transparency in asbestos litigation and trust claims, disability-access lawsuits targeting small businesses, broad misuse of consumer protection laws, and the highest jury-trial threshold in the nation are all problems that contribute to the state’s longstanding reputation as one of the worst places in the country to be sued.