The Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas has been named as one of the top nine “most unfair” legal systems in the nation. This assertion is according to the American Tort Reform Association (ATRA), a group who continually seeks to reform the civil litigation systems at the state and federal levels. Those critical of the ATRA say that they are a special interest group that favors defendants who seek to limit cases such as personal injury, medical malpractice, and product liability.
The report says that Philadelphia's courts have continued to be home to an excessive amount of mass tort cases. They accused the court of having insufficient “venue laws” and that major “legal reform” is needed.
The Philadelphia Courts have hosted a relatively large volume of asbestos-related and pharmaceutical cases. The report indicated that roughly 84% of plaintiffs in the pharmaceutical cases are from out-of-state. The ATRA finds the trend “baffling” because it is contrary to the 2017 Bristol-Myers Squibb ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court. The court ruled that claims must be brought only in jurisdictions where some connection to the parties exists. The ATRA contends that the Philadelphia Courts are appealing to those “shopping” for the best venue to bring a lawsuit.
The Pennsylvania Coalition for Civil Justice Reform agrees that Philadelphia offers a “plaintiff friendly” environment. A representative of the Philadelphia Trial Lawyers Association says that these assertions are made in support of big corporations including pharmaceutical and tobacco companies who are faced with litigation for harming people. They feel that corporations and insurance companies simply want to reduce the number of citizens who pursue civil actions.
In 2017 there were over 5,000 claims of product liability involving prescription medications. This is a significant increase from 1,000 in 2015 and 1,300 in 2016. The court also handled over 600 asbestos-related cases. Through the middle of 2018, there were over 1,800 cases specifically involving the drug Xarelto, a blood-thinning drug.
Are Philadelphia Taxpayers Suffering?
An ATRA representative stated that Philadelphia allows plaintiffs to potentially receive larger awards for damages compared to other comparable venues. They seek to encourage judges to revise their rules regarding jurisdiction (venue). In their opinion, the volume of cases coming in from out-of-state is unfair to local taxpayers.
How is Philadelphia Affording This?
Details from the Budget Testimony for the First Judicial District for 2019 provide some insight into the financial burden on the court system. They requested $161.7 million for the upcoming 2019 budget. The District does generate roughly $44 million from fees, fines, and reimbursements that offsets over 25% of the budget costs.
Civil Court Facts
- Trial Division Civil Section: Handles all civil matters over $10,000
- Complex Litigation Center: Opened in 1992, it was the first venue intended for mass tort actions
- Compulsory Arbitration Center: The Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas requires that civil cases involving over $50,000 be subject to arbitration. A panel of three arbitrators initially hosts a hearing that is geared toward reaching a resolution. (certain judicial remedies and real estate matters excluded)