New reports from the American Tort Reform Association (ATRA) reveal the lengths to which Pennsylvania’s plaintiffs’ attorneys will go to tilt the scales of justice in their favor.

Courtesy of plaintiffs’ attorneys massive spending on political contributions and legal advertising, Pennsylvania has gained a reputation as one of the nation’s worst judicial hellholes. The Commonwealth is plagued by nuclear verdicts (verdicts over $10 million) and an unpredictable and non-uniform civil court system. One needs to look no farther than the significant number of medical malpractice cases that are currently flooding the Philadelphia court system in search of jackpot pay days. The result is irreversible injury to our economy and health care.

The first study found that since 2017, the state trial bar’s political action committee (LawPAC) and the Philadelphia Trial Lawyers’ Association’s PAC (the Committee for a Better Tomorrow) have amassed more than $15.3 million in contributions. According to the report, the campaigns of state Supreme Court Justice Daniel McCaffery and Pennsylvania Superior Court Judge Maria McLaughlin have been the top two recipients of plaintiffs’ attorney contributions, receiving $1.8 million and $1.1 million respectively since 2017. Millions of more dollars went to other successful candidates. The report also notes that due to Pennsylvania’s campaign finance laws, it is difficult to track the full impact that trial lawyers have on the Commonwealth’s political environment.

The ATRA report provides a valuable service in identifying the big contributors to these PACs and the candidates who have benefited most from their largess. But this is not the whole story. The trial bar PACs also give to other trial bar related committees, such as Pennsylvanians for Judicial Fairness, PA Fund for Change, Fairness PA, Forward Together, and DT Pac. These PACs in turn donate the trial bar money they have collected to various candidates. This increases the actual amount of plaintiffs’ attorney contributions to candidates. This “shell game” of trial bar contributions makes it difficult to track all of the contributions being made with plaintiffs’ attorney money.

For example, The DT PAC takes contributions from the plaintiffs’ lawyers PACs mentioned in the report and gives contributions to Republican candidates who presumably do not want to be seen as taking trial bar political contributions! Candidate campaign finance filings only show contributions from DT PAC and not where the money originally came from.

As stunning as the figures are in the ATRA report, they do not include plaintiffs’ law firms and plaintiffs’ attorneys that directly contribute to candidates. Thus, the actual amount of contributions from the plaintiffs’ bar is even greater than indicated in the report. 

The second analysis focuses on legal services advertising in the state’s eleven media markets. The results show that in 2023 alone, $161.9 million was spent on more than 1.4 million local legal services advertisements — including print, digital, radio, outdoor and spot TV. It probably comes as no surprise that Morgan and Morgan holds the top spots in advertising dollars spent and number of ads.

As noted in an ATRA press release announcing the reports, “The top legal services advertisers in Pennsylvania wield substantial financial clout, collectively spending millions to saturate the advertising space. However, what is perhaps more alarming is the crossover between top advertisers and campaign donors, highlighting influence not only in the political sphere but in shaping public perceptions.”

Unlimited contingency fees collected by plaintiffs’ lawyers fund these ads. The ads bring in more clients to generate more fees to fund more ads and on and on it goes! Lawyer advertising also serves another more sinister purpose. These ads poison the pool of potential jurors by planting ideas that certain products are harmful, justice equates to large cash settlements or verdicts, and other notions that jurors take into the courtroom with them.

One way to put an end to this vicious cycle would be to enact contingency fee caps. If plaintiffs’ attorneys can spend $161.9 million in Pennsylvania on ads, they can afford to cap their fees so they take home less and their client takes home more!

These reports highlight a very disturbing trend in the Commonwealth, a trend that needs to be reversed to right-size the state’s legal climate. Doctors, hospitals, places of employment, and you cannot continue to bear the cost of runaway nuclear verdicts that are fostered by campaign contributions and advertising. Changes are long overdue to bring fairness and balance to Pennsylvania’s civil justice system.

Curt Schroder is the Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Coalition for Civil Justice Reform.

5 thoughts on “Curt Schroder: Personal injury attorneys spend millions to influence elections and juries”

  1. This has been a problem in Pennsylvania since at least the latter part of the 19th century. The cancer of contingency fee attorneys pouring money into judicial candidates and various self-serving judicial “good old boy” organizational networking entities, is growing bigger and more extensive. More and more justice is driven by greed rather than equity. Just look at some TV ads: give us a call and we will evaluate your situation to see what it may be worth. No win, no fee (neglecting to mention that is only attorney fees, not associated administrative and processing fees). Perhaps a dent can be made in the problem if the judicial system went to where the loser pays all fees and expenses and where frivolous cases are severely sactioned.

    1. This article is completely false. If you want to see who actual spends money and I am talking BILLIONS on lobbying the judicial branch its big pharma and insurance companies. Every state has loser pays statutes. Please site or provide ANY evidence to all of these “frivilous filings.” Give me some form of proof to back that up.

  2. It will take courage to pass legislation making campaign contribution limits applicable to all, including PACs and Unions. Imagine if all were subject to the same limits as you or I – just $2,800 per person per candidate per election as it is on the federal level.

  3. Let’s start with the renown McDonald’s hot coffee lawsuit. McDonalds is a fault for not warning people that hot coffee is, in fact. hot. My personal favorite, the lack of warning that push along power lawnmowers are dangerous when used as hedge trimmers. PennDOT is probably the best at collecting lawsuits that have little to no merit. These are generally filed, not so much for a court win, but for a settlement so the suit will go away, Pennsylvania calls what used to be known as “guardrails” now “Guiderails” because of a lawsuit that propositioned the name “guardrails” gave motorists a false sense of security that they would prevent or at least mitigate accidents involving running off the road. Hence the name “guiderails.”

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