JUDICIAL HELLHOLE SUMMARIES
#1 PHILADELPHIA COURT OF COMMON PLEAS & THE SUPREME COURT OF PENNSYLVANIA Plaintiffs from across the country continue to flock to the Court of Common Pleas because of its reputation for excessive verdicts and its “open door” policy to out-of-state plaintiffs. It is a haven for mass tort litigation, par-ticularly lawsuits targeting medications and medical devices. The Supreme Court made the state even more appealing with a ruling that solidified the state’s low standard for expert witness testimony. It issued another ruling that openly defied the U.S. Supreme Court and will open the floodgates for filings from out-of-state plaintiffs. The high court also increased potential liability for asbestos defendants. No industry is safe as the courts look to expand liability for all defendants, including those in the essential health care industry.
#2 NEW YORK CITY New York City businesses face uphill battles on multiple fronts. The courts allow the entrepreneurial plaintiffs’ bar to advance novel theories of liability under state and federal laws like New York’s consumer protection statute and the Americans with Disability Act (ADA), while much-needed reforms continue to stall in the state legislature. New York also has overtaken California as the nation’s top “food court” and abuses still riddle New York City’s asbestos litigation. The activist state attorney general is attempting to regulate industries through litigation, and third-party litigation financing companies seek to profit off of the state’s overly-litigious environment. The state also has seen a dramatic increase in excessive verdicts, also known as nuclear verdicts.
#3 CALIFORNIA A perennial Judicial Hellhole, California’s fall to the No.3 spot in 2020 cannot be attributed to any improvement in the state’s liability climate, but rather results from the severity of problems in Pennsylvania courts and New York City. Baseless Prop-65 litigation targets business and courts allow the plaintiffs’ bar to exploit California’s Lemon Law. Entrepreneurial plaintiffs’ lawyers take advantage of unique California laws such as the Private Attorney General Act and the California Consumer Protection Act. The activist state attorney general is pushing an expansive view of public nuisance law, and small business continues to be targeted by Americans with Disability Act (ADA) lawsuit abuse. Arbitration also is under attack and employers face burdensome employment law liability.
#4 SOUTH CAROLINA ASBESTOS LITIGATION South Carolina asbestos litigation was included on the Watch List in 2019, thanks to its reputation for pro-plaintiff rulings and unfair treatment of defendants. A concerning pattern of discovery abuse, unwarranted sanctions, low evidentiary requirements, and multi-million-dollar verdicts solidified its position as a Judicial Hellhole in 2020.
#5 LOUISIANA Lawsuit abuse and insurance scams drive auto insurance rates higher and higher in the Bayou State. Abusive coastal litigation continues to bog down Louisiana’s economy, and in-state lawyers are spending millions of dollars on lawsuit advertising. Louisiana took a step in the right direction when it enacted the “The Civil Justice Reform Act of 2020,” but more work remains to be done.
#6 GEORGIA The “Peach State” once again finds itself on the Judicial Hellholes list thanks to a continued rise in nuclear verdicts, the increasing role of third-party litigation financing, and ever-expanding premise liability. The Georgia Supreme Court also attributed cybercriminal acts to law abiding businesses. Trial lawyers have spent millions of dollars on advertisements, publicizing their jackpot verdicts and looking for their next big pay day. And while the Georgia legislature seemed poised to address lawsuit abuse plaguing the state’s judicial system, its efforts were derailed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
#7 CITY OF ST. LOUIS, MISSOURI The City of St. Louis Circuit Court is notorious for allowing blatant forum shopping and awarding excessive punitive damage awards. The court also fails to ensure that cases are guided by sound science. In 2020, the Missouri Legislature took great strides toward addressing lawsuit abuse that has plagued the “Show-Me-Your-Lawsuit” state for years. While the enactment of several reforms is encouraging for Missouri’s future, the success is contingent on the St. Louis court’s compliance with the new statutes. Some St. Louis judges have a history of ignoring both state law and U.S. Supreme Court precedent with regard to expert evidence standards, personal jurisdiction and venue, and damage awards.
#8 COOK, MADISON AND ST. CLAIR COUNTIES, ILLINOIS This trio of Illinois counties continues to be a preferred jurisdiction for plaintiffs’ lawyers thanks to no-injury lawsuits, plaintiff-friendly rulings in asbestos litigation, and the promise of a liability-expanding legislative agenda each and every year. Illinois is ground zero for no-injury lawsuits, thanks in large part to its Biometric Information Privacy Act and the courts’ expansive interpretation of the law.
#9 MINNESOTA The “Gopher State” once again finds itself on the Judicial Hellholes list thanks to Minnesota’s activist attorney general, the Supreme Court’s loose application of venue laws, and liability-expanding decisions by the Minnesota Supreme Court. The Minnesota Supreme Court swung the door open to third party litigation funding when it abolished the common law offense of champerty.