#1 CALIFORNIA A perennial Judicial Hellhole, California has once again regained its position atop the Judicial Hellholes list due to the propensity of California judges and legislators to extend liability at almost every given opportunity. California courts have adopted novel theories of liability and unique California laws and expansive court decisions have fostered abusive “no-injury” litigation. As a result, the state has become a magnet for class actions targeting food and beverage marketing and disability access lawsuits. In addition, a new data privacy law is plaintiffs’ lawyer gold and is expected to lead to extensive lawsuit abuse.
#2 FLORIDA The Florida Supreme Court issued a series of liability-expanding opinions that invalidated civil justice reforms, damaging the state’s civil justice system. The high court once again showed contempt for the lawmaking authority of the state legislature and its decisions will have a lasting impact on the state’s legal climate. The Florida legislature also failed to address blatant lawsuit abuse and fraud, and plaintiffs’ lawyers continued with their usual antics.
#3 NEW YORK CITY While the New York City Asbestos Litigation has been featured in the report since 2013, the 2018-2019 report broadens the “Judicial Hellhole” distinction to include other types of litigation in New York City. Courts in New York City are filled with frivolous consumer class actions and judges permit plaintiff-friendly procedures and high awards in asbestos cases. The state high court also further stacked the deck against defendants in personal injury litigation. Hedge funds are increasingly investing in New York litigation and driving some of the most expensive cases in the state. Additionally, the legislature failed to address excessive construction liability and asbestos litigation abuse, and it expanded medical liability.
#4 THE CITY OF ST. LOUIS, MISSOURI The optimism for a more balanced City of St. Louis expressed in last year’s report quickly evaporated in 2018 as judges were reluctant to end forum shopping and allowed plaintiffs’ lawyers to introduce junk science in the city’s talc litigation. “No-injury” consumer class actions continue to fill the courts and the liability-expanding state high court overlooked juror misconduct in a crucial case against a large in-state employer. Excessive lawsuit advertising has inundated jury pools, making it difficult for defendants to receive a fair trial, and once again, the legislature was unable or unwilling to pass needed legal reforms.
#5 LOUISIANA The state of Louisiana, led by Governor John Bel Edwards, has developed a propensity to hire former campaign donors to represent the state in litigation, creating the appearance of a “pay-to-play” system. There is rampant lawsuit abuse and the legislature has failed to address these problems. The Louisiana Supreme Court also has a propensity to expand liability.
#6 PHILADELPHIA COURT OF COMMON PLEAS Mass tort cases continue to flood the Philadelphia court system due to judges’ loose application of venue laws and an overall lack of legal reform. Philadelphia also remains a hotbed for asbestos litigation. State leadership appears to be strongly aligned with the plaintiffs’ bar, signaling little hope for change.
#7 NEW JERSEY LEGISLATURE In 2018, the New Jersey legislature distinguished itself as the most plaintiff- friendly legislature in the country. While the Judicial Hellholes report typically focuses on the courts, the New Jersey legislature is an exception because of its drastic liability-expanding agenda for the 2018-2019 session. The trial bar also has gained significant power and influence in the state legislature, leading to legislators’ refusal to entertain even the most modest of tort reforms.
#8 ST. CLAIR AND MADISON COUNTIES, ILLINOIS These counties are notorious for their disproportionate volumes of litigation and large verdicts. St. Clair County is a magnet for “no-injury” consumer class action litigation, while Madison County continues to be the plaintiffs’ favorite jurisdiction for asbestos lawsuits. St. Clair also is experiencing a meteoric rise in asbestos litigation, and a lack of legal reform in Illinois allows the litigation to flourish.
#9 TWIN CITIES, MINNESOTA A newcomer to the Judicial Hellholes report, the Twin Cities’ position was solidified after the attorney general mishandled a lawsuit against a large Twin Cities employer and a Hennepin County trial judge stripped a company’s defenses. The lower courts appear to be following the lead of the state’s high court after it subjected property owners to expanded liability in 2018 and rejected a measure intended to remove “junk science” from the state’s courts.