Each year the American Tort Reform Association (ATRA) publishes a list of “Judicial Hellholes” — places where ATRA says laws and court procedures are applied in an “unfair and unbalanced” way in civil cases, usually to the disadvantage of defendants.
Since the issue of social inflation has been trending in recent months, it’s no surprise that the mention of ATRA’s report in our Daily newsletter garnered an unprecedented number of clicks.
Florida — a former number one Judicial Hellhole — doesn’t even make the cut this year.
“Florida took great strides toward improving its legal climate in 2019,” ATRA says “Although there is much work to be done, the election of Governor Ron DeSantis (R) has heralded a sea change in Florida’s legal landscape, beginning with the appointment of several new Florida Supreme Court justices. This new court is deferential to legislative efforts to stop lawsuit abuse and poised to correct the course set by the prior activist court.”
DeSantis in 2019 also signed into law a measure aimed at curbing assignment of benefits (AOB) litigation in the state. AOB is a standard insurance practice and an efficient, customer-friendly way to settle claims. As a convenience, a policyholder lets a third party – say, an auto glass repair company – directly bill the insurer. In Florida, however, legislative wrinkles have spawned a state of affairs in which legal fees can dwarf actual damages paid to the policyholder – sometimes tens of thousands of dollars for a single low-damage claim.
The measure DeSantis signed puts new requirements on contractors and lets insurers offer policies with limited AOB rights, or none at all. But it excludes auto glass repairs. The number of auto glass AOB lawsuits statewide in 2013 was over 3,800; by 2017, that number had grown to more than 20,000.
This year, the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas took over the top spot for 2019. It is one of the preferred jurisdictions for asbestos litigation and home to an $8 billion product liability verdict. California, New York City, Louisiana, and St. Louis all rank in the top five.
Some of the trends noted in the ATRA report include:
- the trial bar’s push to use public nuisance law to shift costs associated with public crises to businesses;
- lead paint and climate change litigation;
- the opioid and vaping crisis; and
- new rights of action against employers.
Three Illinois counties – Cook, Madison, and St. Clair – made the list. Antonio M. Romanucci, president of the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association, called the ATRA report misleading. “The deceptively titled ‘Hellholes’ report is part of [ATRA’s] ongoing campaign to deny access to the court system that our tax dollars fund,” Romanucci told Illinois Radio Network. “ATRA’s annual publicity stunt demeans the U.S. Constitution and attacks citizens’ Seventh Amendment right to trial by jury.”
Romanucci said the number of civil lawsuits filed in Illinois has been declining since 2010 and was down 47 percent. And medical malpractice cases have dropped 32 percent since 2003.