According to the American Tort Reform Foundation (ATRF), a “judicial hellhole” is a place where judges systematically apply laws and court procedures in an unfair and unbalanced manner, generally against defendants in civil lawsuits.
Each year the ATRF releases a report spotlighting places across the nation where the scales of justice are wildly out of balance. This year, the report identifies the following as judicial hellholes:
- South Florida—known for medical malpractice claims, tobacco lawsuits and large monetary verdicts, this jurisdiction has some of the highest medical malpractice rates in the country.
- West Virginia—has gained a reputation as a venue in which civil defendants cannot receive justice, especially if they are from out of state. In addition, it is harder to appeal a verdict in West Virginia than anywhere else in the country.
- Cook County, Ill.—home to 65% of the state’s lawsuits but only 41% of its population. The area is particularly appealing to out-of-state plaintiffs because of the often-favorable outcomes.
- Atlantic City, N.J.—is a center for mass tort actions, usually against pharmaceutical companies. According to ATRF, 93% of the plaintiffs in New Jersey’s mass tort suits are from out of state.
- New Mexico—Appellate Courts here have consistently issued rulings favoring plaintiffs, even in cases that seem contrary to common sense. A 2009 report by the Judicial Evaluation Institute found that in two thirds of the civil cases in New Mexico, the state supreme court judges ruled in a way that expanded liability.
- New York City—here, suing the city is commonplace and fruitful. According to ATRF, the city spent more money settling medical malpractice, slip and fall, car accident, and school-related claims than the next five largest cities in the United States combined.
The ATRF has also put five jurisdictions on the watch list: California, Alabama, Madison County, Ill., Jefferson County, Miss., and Gulf Coast and Rio Grande Valley, Texas. The group gave a “dishonorable mention” to the Arkansas Supreme Court for invalidating two important medical malpractice reforms that limited liability and damages.
On a more positive note, the report also highlighted “points of light,” or jurisdictions that are setting examples of how states can keep themselves from being labeled “judicial hellholes.”
Among the positive examples was Arizona, where the Supreme Court upheld a law establishing minimum qualifications for expert witnesses who testify in medical liability cases and legislation was passed raising the burden of proof necessary to sue providers of emergency health care. The entire ATRF report may be accessed online at http://www.atra.org/reports/hellholes/report.pdf.