PA Tort Reform Advocates See More Room for Improvement

Republican leaders in Pennsylvania include “tort reform” on their list of legislative accomplishments nearly every time one of them trades the Capitol rostrum for a podium at a gathering of party faithful.

From state committee meetings to tea party rallies, GOP lawmakers hammer home the victory that is the Fair Share Act, a law that traded joint liability for several liability in a wide array of PA civil cases. A major priority for businesses, Governor Tom Corbett signed the bill into law in 2011.

But it may not have gone far enough, according to a recent study by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Institute of Legal Reform.

The organization commissioned a survey of “1,125 in-house general counsel, senior litigators or attorneys, and other senior executives who indicated that they are knowledgeable about litigation matters at companies with at least $100 million in annual revenues.”

Respondents ranked Pennsylvania 40th out of the 50 states vis-a-vis litigation climate, a drop of 6 places from 34th in 2010. Delaware came out on top, while West Virginia was 50th – both unchanged since 2006.

A Chamber analysis of the results put the blame on courts in Philadelphia, which it ranked 5th worst in the country.

“The biggest problems in the Philadelphia court relate to lawsuits brought by out-of-state plaintiffs,” wrote the Institute’s Lisa Rickard. “It’s a general principle of the civil justice system that cases should be tried in the jurisdiction where the injury occurred or where the plaintiff or defendant resides. Yet in today’s Philadelphia courts, lawsuits are routinely filed by plaintiffs who have little or no connection to the city against defendants with only a tangential presence.”

Opponents of tort reform measures note that big city court systems like Philadelphia’s are better able to handle complex litigation and resolve problems faster.

Tort Reform Truth is a website highlighted by the PA Association of Justice, an advocacy group for Pa. attorneys. The website explains, “Negligence victims face several stall tactics in their pursuit of justice, but the most daunting is the sometimes slow pace of justice.”

“The goal of venue reform is to bog down cases in local courts. Big business and insurers are betting that injured plaintiffs don’t have the time or resources to wage a lengthy legal fight. They rightly assume that victims are more likely to settle for less than they deserve to avoid years of potential litigation. Smaller settlements translates to less justice for victims and more profits for corporate interests.”

But reform advocates, like Rep. Stephen Bloom (R-Cumberland) of the Pa. House Committee on Labor and Industry, say the system is being abused.

“I’m co-sponsoring more than a half dozen lawsuit abuse reform bills in the PA House, including two key initiatives to halt abusive ‘venue shopping’ (HB 1552 and HB 1976), a despicable practice in which predatory plaintiffs lawyers unfairly drag defendants before plaintiff-friendly courts in inconvenient locations, typically Philadelphia, even though the actual claims have no connection with that jurisdiction,” Bloom said.

3 Responses

  1. Tort reform is a diversion from the real issues of safety, transparency and accountability. The more lawsuits a wrongdoer can suppress, the less people know about dangers and the less responsibility can be laid at the feet of large corporations. Meanwhile the cost of caring for the injured get shifted to the taxpayers through Medicaid, Medicare and often welfare.

  2. Let’s go with the Texas model,maybe we would see job growth on par with them. Loser pays is the way to go. Mr. Healy why are you protecting rich, greedy personal injury lawyers??

  3. Tort Reform= GOP shorthand for removing people’s right to use the courts for when they are injured by a Corporation.

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