November 24, 2006

2006 Judicial Hellholes

Reprinted From American Tort Reform Association

Judicial Hellholes are places where judges systematically apply laws and court procedures in an unfair and unbalanced manner, generally against defendants in civil lawsuits.

2006 Judicial Hellholes

1. West Virginia
West Virginia courts have "served as the home field for plaintiffs' attorneys determined to bring corporations to their knees."7 The state has a history of alliances and close personal connections among personal injury lawyers, the state's attorney general, and local judges. Personal injury lawyers prefer West Virginia courts because they can pick-and-choose where they file claims. Also, a state legal rule allows a claimant to collect cash simply by showing that he was exposed to a potentially dangerous substance, even if he has no sign of injury. The state is a popular venue for asbestos cases and, this year, the its high court invalidated a law enacted by the legislature to stem blatant forum shopping. West Virginia has recently been plagued by allegations of fraudulent lawsuits, including a phantom doctor who did not exist but signed medical documentation supporting lawsuits. Fake identities have been used at medical screenings, and a local physician is reportedly under investigation for making as many as 150 diagnoses of asbestosis a day.
2. South Florida
South Florida has a reputation for high awards, improper evidentiary rulings, class actions, asbestos cases, and medical malpractice payouts. This year, the state's highest court threw out a $145 billion award against the tobacco industry, which included the largest punitive damage award in American history. It is an area where a lawyer once considered the "King of Torts" is accused of overcharging his clients and misappropriating $13.5 million in settlements to support his waterfront mansion, opulent lifestyle, and production of a series "B" movies. Appellate courts have reversed area trial courts for inappropriately certifying class actions, allowing people who are not injured to sue, and permitting junk science.
3. Rio Grande Valley and Gulf Coast, Texas
Rio Grande Valley and Gulf Coast, Texas, have a reputation as a "plaintiff paradise." It is an area where extremely weak evidence can net multimillion dollar awards; jurors have relationships with the litigants in their cases; car accident lawsuits are decided without jurors knowing all the facts, including that the plaintiff was not wearing a seatbelt; and huge awards in asbestos cases are overturned due to junk science.
4. Cook County, Illinois
Cook County, Illinois, is known for its general hostility toward corporate defendants. It hosts a disproportionate share of the state's lawsuits, has experienced a surge in asbestos claims, and is popular for class actions. Courts there often allow burdensome discovery, put expediency over the rights of defendants, make evidentiary rulings that favor plaintiffs over defendants, and welcome claims with little or no connection to the county. While the area's once robust manufacturing sector has been dealt a severe blow, the litigation industry is booming in Chicago.
5. Madison County, Illinois
Extraordinary changes in Madison County, Illinois, that began in 2005 and gained momentum in 2006, have led ATRF to move the area up from the worst-of- the-worst to "purgatory". Lawsuit filings, including class action and asbestos cases have declined dramatically. Local judges have taken action to stop the type of blatant forum and judge shopping that for many years characterized Metro East. Such a reputation does not fade fast, and civil defendants still shiver at the prospect of facing a lawsuit in Madison County.
6. St Clair County, Illinois
St. Clair County, Illinois, continues to host a disproportionate number of large lawsuits, about double the number of suits seen by trial courts in Illinois counties with similar populations. Class action fillings surged more than tenfold between 2002 and 2004 and filings continued to increase in 2005. While class action filings have substantially dropped in neighboring Madison County, St. Clair seems more resistant to change. Many claims are brought on behalf of people who do not live in the county or involve events that occurred outside of Illinois altogether.

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