The American Tort Reform Foundation (ATRF) on Tuesday released its 2023-2024 Judicial Hellholes report, with two jurisdictions sharing the top spot for the first time in the report’s history—Georgia and Pennsylvania, specifically the Pennsylvania Supreme Court and the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas.
The annual report unveils the nine worst jurisdictions in the nation:
1. The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania and the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas
2. Cook County, Illinois
4. New York City
5. South Carolina Asbestos Litigation
6. Lansing, Michigan
8. St. Louis
Many of these Judicial Hellholes have made venue rulings that invite “litigation tourism,” the report said, also noting an abundance of ADA accessibility lawsuits and “no-injury” lawsuits in some jurisdictions.
Georgia jumped to the top spot in 2022 due in large part to a massive $1.7 billion punitive damages award in a product liability case, ATRF said, and 2023 saw the state continue to award nuclear verdicts and expand liability.
Meanwhile, a late-breaking venue decision by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court that will increase litigation tourism and an almost $1 billion verdict out of the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas bumped these courts to the top of the Judicial Hellholes list in 2023. ATRF said plaintiffs from across the country come to the Court of Common Pleas because of its reputation for excessive verdicts and its “open door” policy to out-of-state plaintiffs.
“Plaintiffs flood the courts of their choice, even if that court’s jurisdiction has no real connection to the case,” said Tiger Joyce, president of the American Tort Reform Association. “The result is overburdened courts with drained resources. While it may benefit traveling trial lawyers, the reality is that people who actually live in these Judicial Hellholes pay the price.”
Excessive tort costs to the U.S. economy result in an annual “tort tax” of more than $1,424 paid by every American—nearly $6,000 every year for a family of four. These figures are even more bleak in Judicial Hellholes, according to ATRF.
The report also analyzes national trends, like the U.S. Supreme Court’s Mallory decision this summer, which expanded certain state courts’ jurisdiction over out-of-state companies.
“The impact of the Supreme Court’s decision in the Mallory case cannot be overstated,” Joyce said. “The court missed a crucial opportunity this year to rein in litigation tourism, inadvertently opening the floodgates to file lawsuits in plaintiff-friendly courts with no direct tie to a claim. This ruling paves the way for trial lawyers to contribute to a climate of forum shopping, threatening to overwhelm courts in Georgia, Pennsylvania, St. Louis and New York City. Regrettably, the Supreme Court played a hand in the mounting difficulties of securing a fair and impartial trial in Judicial Hellholes.”
The report includes a carefully ranked “Watch List” including Kentucky, New Jersey and Texas’s Court of Appeals for the Fifth District.
Source: American Tort Reform Association