Rawle’s Reports

Rawle’s Reports, Volume 15, Number 4

PHILADELPHIA

JUDICIAL HELLHOLE

By: Nigel A. Greene

Philadelphia listed as top “Judicial Hellhole” in the USA.

The ninth annual survey conducted by the American Tort Reform Association (ATRA) ranked Philadelphia first on its list of “judicial hellholes.” The ATRA released the list online in December 2010. The full list can be found at www.judicialhellholes.org.

According to its website, ATRA was founded in 1986 by the American Council of Engineering Companies and was later joined by the American Medical Association. ATRA describes itself as “working to bring greater fairness, predictability and efficiency to America’s civil justice system.” Its stated agenda includes, among other things, various tort and civil litigation reforms and limits on punitive and joint and several damages.

In a press release, ATRA general counsel Victor Schwartz described judicial hellholes as, “Traditionally . . . considered places where civil judges systematically apply laws and court procedures in an unfair and unbalanced manner, generally against defendants in civil lawsuits.” He also notes that “The jurisdictions we name as Judicial Hellholes each year are not the only unfair courts in the nation, but they are among the most unfair, based on our survey of litigants and considerable independent research.”

In 2010, Philadelphia was ranked number 1 for the first time in the nine year history, displacing prior list leaders South Florida and West Virginia. South Florida and West Virginia remain in the top 5 judicial hellholes in 2010. The top five locations in 2010, in order, were:

 

            1.         Philadelphia

            2.         California, particular Los Angeles and Humboldt counties

            3.         West Virginia

            4.         South Florida

            5.         Cook County Illinois

 

ATRA describes Philadelphia’s top listing as a result of the:

“. . . philosophy and trial practices of its Complex Litigation Center, as well as the area’s reputation for excessive verdicts. The judicial leadership is engaged in a campaign to draw in massive personal injury lawsuits from around the country, viewing the increase in lawsuits and out-of-town lawyers as a boost for the court’s revenues and the local restaurants and hotels. Controversial practices, such as “reverse bifurcation,” unfairness in multiple trials against the same defendant at the same time, and combining multiple cases into a single trial provide incentives for plaintiffs’ lawyers to bring their claims to the City of Brotherly Love. Punitive damage awards over $1 million have reportedly tripled in Philadelphia courts. State tort law that is out of the mainstream further encourages lawsuits.”

The report cites press reports and court’s data, as well as complaints from unnamed  “various defendants” and “various attorneys.”

Plaintiffs’ lawyers have taken issue with ATRA’s methodology and consider it flawed. However, a pro-plaintiff bent is clearly identifiable in Pennsylvania and Philadelphia laws, procedures and policies. For example:

•           The 1% Rule - A Pennsylvania defendant found just 1% liable in a personal injury case can be made to pay 100% of the damages and forced to seek recovery from more culpable defendants, or,  if the more culpable defendant cannot pay its share, bear a vastly disproportionate loss without recourse. 

•           Delay Damages - Pennsylvania imposes delay damages whereby a defendant can be made to pay interest on a verdict for pre-trial delays, even when the defendant is not at fault or did not cause the delay.

•           20 day Rule -A Pennsylvania defendant has only twenty (20) calendar days to deliver settlement funds to a party or risk invalidation of the settlement agreement and sanctions.

•           Limited discovery - In Philadelphia arbitration cases involving motor vehicle or premises liability, a plaintiff may unilaterally limit, and compel, a defendant’s discovery by issuing court created Interrogatories and Request for Production of Documents that may have limited application or use to a corporate defendant. 

For a civil defendant facing trial in Philadelphia, the listing by ATRA sheds light on the need for a defense attorney that is not only aware of the local laws, policies and procedures, but is also able to avoid the pitfalls and achieve good results within the jurisdiction’s constraints.

Nigel A. Greene earned his B.A. from Virginia Polytechnic and State University in 1989. He received a Juris Doctorate from Georgetown University Law Center in 1994, where he was active in Moot Court competition. He achieved Quarterfinalist status in the Advocacy Competition.

Nigel focuses his practice on the defense of commercial motor vehicles and complex commercial litigation matters. In addition, he serves as an arbitrator in Philadelphia County. He is admitted to practice in the state courts of Pennsylvania, the United States District Court for the Eastern and Middle Districts of Pennsylvania and the U.S. Courts of Appeals for the Third Circuit.

Nigel A. Greene can be reached directly at: 

(215) 575.4278 • ngreene@rawle.com

 

CONSTITUTION PROGRAM

Marc F. Ullom and Scott F. Griffith presented a program on the U.S. Constitution to fifty students and several teachers from Philadelphia’s Holy Cross Parish School on May 25, 2011. The Constitution Program was held at Laurel Hill Mansion, the restored summer home of the Rawle family on the banks of the Schuylkill River in Philadelphia. The event was hosted by the Women for Greater Philadelphia (www.womenforgreaterphiladelphia.org), stewards of Laurel Hill Mansion. The mansion is owned and maintained as a historic landmark.

Marc and Scott began with a discussion on the Constitution. They spoke about William Rawle, who founded Rawle & Henderson in 1783. They described Rawle’s family and detailed his role in the early Republic. Marc and Scott looked at the Constitution from a historical perspective and covered key topics such as: the need for our first ten amendments to the Constitution; religion and government; freedom of speech and the press; the legal system and lawyers; and the right to keep and bear arms.  In addition, Scott discussed some current issues and cases relating to the Bill of Rights, particularly the first two amendments. 

The program was received enthusiastically, and students and adult attendees indicated they were very appreciative for the knowledge they gained.

For more information please contact

Marc at mullom@rawle.com or

Scott at sgriffith@rawle.com.

 

PENNSYLVANIA BAR INSTITUTE

Carl D. Buchholz, III was a panelist at the Pennsylvania Bar Institute’s Appellate Advocacy Practicum on Ethical Issues in Appeal on April 7, 2011 in the Supreme Court Courtroom in City Hall. Also on the panel were Superior Court Judges Mary Jane Bowes, Christine Donohue, Robert Freedberg, and Anne Lazarus.

As Chair of the Pennsylvania Disciplinary Board, Carl discussed potential ethical problems that may arise during an appellate argument. Carl has served as the board’s Chair since April 2010.

For more information please contact Carl at cbuchholz@rawle.com.

 

TIPS MIDYEAR PROGRAM

John C. McMeekin, II was a speaker at the Tort Trial & Insurance Practice Section’s (TIPS) 19th Annual Insurance Coverage Litigation Committee Midyear Program on February 26, 2011 in Phoenix, AZ.  His topic was “Finding Balance in the Shifting Sands of Insurance Coverage.”  In his panel session Oasis or Mirage: Coverage Claims Involving Patent Litigation and Advertising Injury, John spoke about Coverage B implications for counterfeit and trademark infringement litigation.  Nancy Axilrod, Esq., Associate General Counsel of Coach, Inc., focused on the problem of the sale of counterfeit merchandise and Operation Turn Lock, Coach’s litigation program to vigorously protect its intellectual property rights by bringing suit against retailers of counterfeit merchandise.

For more information please contact John at jmcmeekin@rawle.com.

  RRV15_N4.pdf