Philadelphia Judge Puts an End to Plaintiff Friendly Practices

By: Scott Hobson

Pennsylvania Court of Common Pleas Administrative Judge John W. Herron recently signed a general court regulation to curb the widespread “litigation tourism” and plaintiff-friendly procedures like case consolidation which have given Philadelphia’s Complex Litigation Center (CLC) the ranking of #1 Judicial Hellhole in America by the American Tort Reform Foundation in 2011 and 2012.

Since its creation in 1992, the CLC has been controversial. Designed exclusively for complex, multi-filed mass tort cases, the CLC’s reputation as a plaintiff’s haven has given rise to an explosion of out of state filings. By 2011, nearly 70% of the lawsuits filed in the CLC had no connection to either Philadelphia or Pennsylvania – for asbestos cases, that number rises to 84%.

Judge Herron’s order is a major step forward for the CLC. As a result of the “dramatic” explosion of asbestos cases in the CLC, the court’s resources were insufficient to provide prompt resolution of claims – and over half the court’s asbestos related filings failed to meet the American Bar Association’s suggested standards. The order prohibits the controversial practices of reverse bifurcation – where damages are determined before liability is even established – and consolidation of unrelated cases.

But Pennsylvania’s gain may well be New York’s loss. Already infamously plaintiff friendly, New York’s court system stands to attract many of the claims which would have otherwise gone to the CLC. New York still permits reverse bifurcation of mass tort cases, which allows plaintiffs’ to significantly increase their damage awards. And, like the CLC, we allow unrelated groups of cases to be consolidated and decided by a single jury – the very same practices which made the Philadelphia a magnet for litigation.

With the second costliest tort system in the nation and a court system that is facing continued budget pressures and shortages of resources, our state can ill-afford to import other state’s litigation problems. New York should follow Judge Herron’s lead and stop litigation tourism before it becomes our largest industry.

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