Today, the American Tort Reform Foundation released its 2014-2015 “Judicial Hellholes” report, which points a finger at the nine courts or jurisdictions that have developed reputations as Judicial Hellholes. California has been named the nation’s worst judicial hellhole for having the least-balanced lawsuit jurisdictions. New York City, Florida, Missouri, Madison County, Louisiana, Hidalgo County, Texas, Newport News, Virginia, and Eastern Texas round out the rest of the list of Judicial Hellholes.
California has regularly been cited for their civil justice system imbalances by the Judicial Hellholes report since its inaugural edition in 2002. Why is California such a hotbed for lawsuit abuse? California remains in the top slot, in part, because of:
Too Many Laws: According to the report, after the California State Legislature’s regular session came to a close in 2015, 2,300 bills had been proposed, 941 made it to the governor’s desk, and 808 were actually signed into law. As the report points out, the legislature is known for being largely influenced by plaintiffs’ lawyers and created 808 new laws, many of which, by design, “will result in more litigation and related costs that for many years have helped drive businesses, along with their jobs and tax revenues, out of the once Golden State and into the arms of less litigious jurisdictions around the country and across the globe.”
Disability Lawsuits: California remains the nation’s epicenter for disability lawsuits, with more than 40 percent of the nation’s disability access lawsuits last year brought in the state. The main reason the claims are so prevalent in this state is that they can be brought by plaintiffs with various alleged disabilities under a combination of both the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and state civil rights law, which allows for damages and attorney’s fees.
Food and Beverage Suits: California’s easily misused state consumer protection laws provide a base for food advertising and labeling suits that just keep coming. Additionally, there has been a rise in both “artisanal” product lines and new class actions alleging that label references to “handmade” or “craft” products are deceptive and thus worth millions to the lawyers driving them. For example, two federal lawsuits filed in San Diego in November claim that Tito’s Vodka labeling uses the word “handmade” to deceive consumers.
Public Nuisance Suits: In California, the state attorneys general and, more recently, county and city prosecutors, often with help from private-sector plaintiffs’ lawyers, “pursue deep-pocket corporate defendants with lawsuits that shamelessly seek to substitute public nuisance law, with its lower standard of proof, for products liability law and its more exacting standard.” Lead paint suits are a prime example of this tactic. Though public nuisance lawsuits against companies that stopped making lead paint decades ago had failed in seven other jurisdictions, the scheme to force those defendants to pay for the abatement of peeling and chipping paint won a key victory in 2013 with help from Santa Clara Superior Court Judge James Kleinberg.
Asbestos Suits: The steady flow of asbestos lawsuits, which are often filed by out-of-state plaintiffs, has been a recurring issue in several California jurisdictions for many years now. Looking at the new-case filings from the state’s major asbestos courts, there were 63 in Alameda and 85 in San Francisco through November, and 121 in Los Angeles through August. These filings suggest that 2015’s year-end totals may be slightly less than 2014’s; however, it is clear that large asbestos verdicts have not abated as the state has seen many multi-million dollar verdicts being reached throughout the year.
As we’ve seen in past years, California’s lawsuit-friendly climate creates an atmosphere ripe for lawyers trolling to bring lawsuits against small business and ludicrous class action lawsuits. This bad environment is linked to local district attorneys and government agencies that have partnered with private contingency fee lawyers, enabling them to bring novel claims against businesses that make paint and prescription drugs. California incentivizes trial lawyers to file abusive lawsuits against businesses and governments with promises of easy money. Read the report here to find out more about the hellacious legal climates in these nine regions.