ATRA’s “Judicial Hellholes 2008″

by Walter Olson on December 17, 2008

The American Tort Reform Association is out with its annual ranking of the jurisdictions where it thinks civil defendants are farthest from being assured a fair trial, and they are:

  1. West Virginia
  2. South Florida
  3. Cook County, Ill.
  4. Atlantic County, NJ
  5. Montgomery and Macon Counties, Ala.
  6. Los Angeles County, CA
  7. Clark County (Las Vegas), Nev.

The list reflects the views of big-company managers and lawyers as to tort lawsuits; a poll of, say, doctors might result in different nominations (Brooklyn, Bronx, Long Island*, Philadelphia) and one of class-action or patent-infringement defendants would likely produce yet other lists.

ATRA has a supplementary “Watch List”, nicknamed by some of us “Heckholes”, of toasty but not quite infernal jurisdictions, on which it places the Rio Grande Valley and Gulf Coast of Texas, Madison County, Ill., Baltimore, Md., and St. Louis city and county and Jackson County, Mo. It also offers side essays on notable scandals among high-rolling lawyers, trial lawyer-AG alliances, and pro-plaintiff’s-bar lobbying efforts.

Some coverage of the report: Pero, ShopFloor (with this and this on AG alliances), Ambrogi, Genova, CalBizLit (“We’re Number 6! We’re Number 6!), TortsProf, Miller (Baltimore), and Turkewitz (cross-posted from Point of Law; also note this recent post).

* Commenter VMS makes a case that Long Island does not belong on such a list.

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12.19.08 at 3:37 pm

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1 VMS 12.17.08 at 5:57 pm

I agree with Brooklyn and De Bronx, but Long Island? Nassau and Suffolk counties in New York are notoriously defendant friendly, and they are very stingy in their awards, especially in medmal suits.

2 Walter Olson 12.17.08 at 6:09 pm

You may be right. Long Island is perennially reported to have some of the nation’s highest med-mal premiums, but I should not have jumped from that to the conclusion that the court system is slanted against the doctor-defendants. There might be other possible explanations for a high payout rate, such as high propensity to sue or high damages per case (because affluent patients sustain higher loss of income when incapacitated).

3 Jason Barney 12.17.08 at 6:52 pm

I agree with VMS. I’ve handled claims and managed the arising litigation and would say that Bronx and Kings County (and Queens to a lesser extent) are certainly judicial hellholes. New York County is more conservative in its awards, especially post-9/11.

I’ve also had good luck (essentially as a defendant) in Nassau and Suffolk and other New York counties not noted in my first paragraph.

Trust me, plaintiffs’ attorney gleefully point out in their negotiations that the case will be heard by such-and-such a jury pool (Bronx/Kings). In other words: good luck getting a rational non-demagogic argument to stick in a venue where the jurors simply want to stick it to the defendant.

Trip over a sidewalk crack in Bronx and you’ll get money…sometimes an obscene amount. I’ve seen it folks.

4 Fighting Docs 01.01.09 at 8:07 am

The American Tort Reform Association (ATRA) report is flawed.

ATRA’s report indicates Pennsylvania has drastically improved. Nothing could be further from the truth. ATRA’s report simply mirrors newspaper and press release fodder–not researched evidence. For example, the report only repeats what the Pennsylvania Supreme Court reports: the number of medical malpractice cases by year. But the Supreme Court only counts cases–not the number of Doctors and Hospitals and Others sued within those cases.

The Pennsylvania Department of State shows far different numbers as it actually reports numbers of litigants within those cases–and the Department’s numbers demonstrate that Pennsylvania still suffers from rampant lawsuit abuse.

Both sides–the trial lawyers, and the vicitims of lawsuit abuse have good reason to question ATRA’s report.

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