The fourth annual “Judicial Hellholes” report, a ranking of state courts in the United States that are sought by plaintiffs because they are judged by critics to have the toughest environment for defendants in civil liability lawsuits, was released today.
The report is issued by the American Tort Reform Association, a coalition of business and professional groups that supports tort reform.
According to ATRA, most state courts dispense justice in a fair and impartial manner. Judicial Hellholes are “a few, but powerful, courts that have a disproportionately harmful impact on civil litigation,” in ATRA’s estimation.
The 2005 Judicial Hellholes as cited by ATRA are:
1. Rio Grande Valley and Gulf Coast, Texas
2. Cook County, Illinois
3. West Virginia
4. Madison County, Illinois
5. St. Clair County, Illinois
6. South Florida.
This year’s only “Dishonorable Mention” goes to the Wisconsin Supreme Court for “four bad decisions in four months.”
“Litigation tourists, who neither lived nor were injured in these jurisdictions, are guided by their personal injury lawyers who seek out these places because they know they will produce a positive outcome, an excessive verdict or settlement, a favorable precedent, or both. This is venue shopping run wild,” said the group in a statement issued along with the report.
“It is possible to quench the fires in Judicial Hellholes with the help of judges, legislators, the electorate and the media,” said Sherman Joyce, President of the American Tort Reform Association (ATRA). “By shining the spotlight on the abuses in these jurisdictions, Judicial Hellholes can become fair courts.”
This year, Hampton County, South Carolina has been ‘delisted.’ After appearing in the Judicial Hellhole report for three years. Philadelphia, although included in this year’s report, has not been listed as a Judicial Hellhole due to reforms enacted and, ATRA said, reports of greater fairness in the jurisdiction.
Last year, Mississippi and St. Louis also were.
“Unfortunately, Judicial Hellholes continue to exist in Texas, which we hold as a model state for civil justice reform. The judges in these Texas jurisdictions continue to fail to apply the laws set forth by a decade of reforms enacted in this state,” said Joyce.
“Judicial Hellholes can be quenched by public light. The result is an impartial court that subscribes to a fundamental value of our legal system: Equal Justice Under Law,” said ATRA General Counsel Victor Schwartz.
Other report Highlights
New this year is the “Watch List,” a list of areas that ATRA has cited in previous Judicial Hellhole reports, or new areas that are being closely monitored due to growing concerns or negative developments in the litigation environment. The 2005 Watch List includes: California; Eastern Kentucky; Eastern Alabama; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; New Mexico; Delaware; Oklahoma; Orleans Parish, Louisiana; and Washington, D.C.
In addition to identifying Judicial Hellholes – places where “Equal Justice Under Law” does not exist – the report also showcases “Points of Light,” areas where ATRA says judges, legislators, the electorate, and the media intervened to stem abusive judicial practices. Some Points of Light include: the enactment of the federal Class Action Fairness Act of 2005; the Illinois Supreme Court ruling that a state trial judge should not have granted nationwide class action treatment in Avery v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., No. 5-99-0830; and four states enacting asbestos and silica litigation reform.
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