The American Tort Reform Foundation’s (ATR) “2021-2022 Judicial Hellholes” report shines a light on what has been a black mark on the Commonwealth for years – Pennsylvania’s overly litigious justice system. For the second year in a row, both the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas and the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania rank as one of the nation’s worst judicial hellholes, sharing the number four spot.
It’s no surprise Pennsylvania ranks high on the list of the country’s most unjust courts and state civil justice systems ripe for lawsuit abuse. The Commonwealth’s legal environment has been a red flag to the health care and employer communities and a burden to taxpayers for years. It is perplexing, however, that given Pennsylvania’s notorious civil justice environment, a Supreme Court committee is considering a rule change that would upend a critical reform preventing financially lucrative forum shopping, making the situation even worse.
According to the ATR report, there has been an alarming trend by the state Supreme Court to significantly expand liability throughout the Commonwealth. A Pennsylvania Coalition for Civil Justice Reform (PCCJR) review of Supreme Court civil cases over the past five years revealed that the court has expanded liability at an alarming pace. From 2016 through early 2021, the ratio of civil cases exposing litigants to expanded liability and higher monetary damages was more than double the decisions upholding important laws, statutes or protections for those victimized by lawsuits.
As of 2019, 85 percent of pharmaceutical cases in Philadelphia’s Complex Litigation Center were from outside the state … Lawsuit abuse reform in Pennsylvania is long overdue. It’s time for state lawmakers to reset the scales of justice.
And now the Civil Procedural Rules Committee of the Supreme Court is actively considering a return to forum shopping in medical liability cases. In 2002, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court adopted Rule 1006 (a.1) in response to a statewide medical liability crisis. This rule requires medical professional liability actions against health care providers to be brought only to the county in which the injury occured. Prior to this change, Pennsylvanian physicians faced skyrocketing medical malpractice premiums, leading many family and specialty practices to close because it was simply too expensive to operate in the state.
According to a report by the Pew Charitable Trusts, this crisis was largely fueled by plaintiffs’ attorneys funneling cases to Philadelphia’s notoriously high-verdict court system in search of a large payday.
This rule has helped to amend Pennsylvania’s medical malpractice environment. However, there is a serious effort underway to revert back to forum shopping, which is being aided by the fact that throughout the past five years the Civil Procedural Rules Committee has become significantly imbalanced, favoring plaintiff attorneys.
At the last Civil Procedural Rules Committee meeting, an attempt was made to recommend a new venue rule to the Supreme Court, with another attempt anticipated at the upcoming meeting in the spring. Adoption of the proposed rule would return forum shopping to medical liability cases and allow more cases to be heard in the jackpot courts in Philadelphia.
This rule will only exacerbate the City of Brotherly Love’s reputation of being a “cash cow” environment for personal injury attorneys. The ATR report noted that the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas remains a “hotbed for mass tort litigation.”
Trial lawyers have used this to their benefit, spending millions in advertising to drive the number of claimants and filing product liability claims from around the country in Philadelphia’s Court of Common Pleas Complex Litigation Center. ATR reports that there are more than 7,500 pending cases against a single pharmaceutical product, Risperdal, in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas Complex Litigation Center alone.
As of 2019, 85 percent of pharmaceutical cases in Philadelphia’s Complex Litigation Center were from outside the state, continuing the city’s reputation as the epicenter of litigation tourism.
For far too long, Pennsylvania’s civil justice system has been a blueprint for how to get rich quick by abusing the legal system. The state’s overly-litigious environment has marred and tilted the scales of justice in the Commonwealth. The 2021-2022 ATR report highlights a very real problem that is negatively impacting every taxpayer and deterring potential investment and economic growth. Lawsuit abuse reform in Pennsylvania is long overdue. It’s time for state lawmakers to reset the scales of justice.
Curt Schroeder is the Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Coalition for Civil Justice Reform, a 501(c )(6) not-for-profit nonpartisan advocacy organization comprised of a diverse group of organizations and individuals committed to bringing fairness to Pennsylvania’s courts by raising awareness of civil justice issues and advocating for legal reform. Additional information is available at http://www.paforciviljusticereform.org, https://www.facebook.com/paciviljustice/ and https://twitter.com/paciviljustice.