Abuse of the Courts
Our civil justice system should be used for justice, not greed. Unfortunately some personal injury lawyers play a game of “lawsuit lottery” with our courts, and when they win it is at the public’s expense. Too often, personal injury lawyers use aggressive advertising tactics to scare, mislead, and ultimately recruit plaintiffs, many of whom lack any real injury. Despite recent reforms to cut down on lawsuit abuse, personal injury lawyers continue to look for legal loopholes they can exploit to file frivolous lawsuits that seek to game the system for their personal benefit. They target courts in certain areas of the country, known as “judicial hellholes,” that they see as having judges and juries more likely to give them big jackpots. This system of “jackpot justice” is out of control.
Judicial activism and venue shopping have created judicial hellholes.
Judicial Hellholes are places that have a disproportionately harmful impact on civil litigation. Judges in these areas of the country have been found to systematically apply laws and court procedures in an unfair and unbalanced manner, generally against defendants in civil lawsuits. These locales attract lawsuits from around the country filed by personal injury lawyers hoping to strike it rich.
- West Virginia: Personal injury lawyers prefer West Virginia courts because they can pick and choose where they file claims. Also, a state legal rule allows a claimant to collect cash simply by showing that he was exposed to a potentially dangerous substance, even if he has no sign of injury. The state is a near perfect storm of anti-business rulings, massive lawsuits and cozy relationships between the personal injury bar, the state attorney general, and some in the judiciary. West Virginia is one of only two states that do not guarantee a right to appeal a civil verdict, even if a multi-million dollar award is clearly excessive under the law or the trial court violated procedural fairness by alloing a jury to decide punitive damages before it found a defendant legally responsible for a claim.
- South Florida: South Florida is an area where a lawyer once considered the “King of Torts” is accused of overcharging his clients and misappropriating $13.5 million in settlements to support his waterfront mansion, opulent lifestyle, and production of “B” movies. In addition, appellate courts have reversed trial courts in this area for inappropriately certifying class actions, allowing people who are not injured to sue, and permitting junk science.
- Cook County, Illinois: Cook County hosts a disproportionate share of the state’s lawsuits (63 percent, even though it is home to 42 percent of the population), has experienced a surge in asbestos claims, and is popular for class actions, as courts there welcome lawsuits with little or no connection to the county. While the area’s once robust manufacturing sector has been dealt a severe blow, the litigation industry is booming in Chicago. The jurisdiction was responsible for throwing out a state law aimed at solving medical liability problems that had set physicians fleeing the state.
- Atlantic County, New Jersey: In the state known as the “nation’s medicine cabinet,” Atlantic County has become the destination of choice for those suing the pharmaceutical industry. Some of these cases are brought on behalf of people who do not even claim to have been harmed by taking a drug. Instead, lawyers are seeking massive payouts for anyone who merely purchased a drug.
- Montgomery & Macon Counties, Alabama:Montgomery County returned two of the most excessive verdicts against pharmaceutical companies in the country totaling almost a quarter-billion dollars. Meanwhile, in nearby Macon County, two judges gave new meaning to the phrase “jackpot justice” in awarding a plaintiff 1,000 times the maximum payout of a gaming park’s malfunctioning slot machine.
- Los Angeles County, California: Los Angeles returned to the ranks of Judicial Hellholes, in part, for allowing “shakedown” lawsuits brought primarily against small businesses under the Americans with Disabilities Act, and for otherwise astonishingly excessive verdicts. The county long known as “the bank” has remained one of the most desirable places in the nation to file lawsuits.
- Clark County, Nevada: Lawyers in this jurisdiction recognize that they have a problem – and it isn’t gambling or drinking. According to one recent allegation by the FBI in Las Vegas, plaintiffs’ attorneys try to game the system in favor of their clients by contributing politically to the judges before whom they appear. Defense lawyers feel the scales of justice are tipped against them, as shown by one instance in which a court ordered a new trial when a defense lawyer had the audacity to mention frivolous lawsuits and individual responsibility in his closing argument.
These examples and more information about abuses of consumer protection laws can be found in the American Tort Reform Foundations’ “Judicial Hellholes 2010/2011 Report."