Are PA Courts Biased Against Employers?

Every year, the American Tort Reform Association (ATRA) produces a report announcing the “Judicial Hellholes” across the nation. In the 2017 edition, Pennsylvania makes their list- twice.

The city of Philadelphia claims the number five spot and the Pennsylvania State Supreme Court makes the report's Watch List. 

Judicial Hellholes are described as civil courts “where judges systematically apply laws and court procedures in an unfair and unbalanced manner.”

This unwelcome ranking is due to The Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas’ Complex Litigation Center (CLC) for product liability litigation. When a consumer experiences harmful or undisclosed side effects from a product, the consumer can sue the company through the CLC. Philadelphia’s CLC is overrun with cases — mostly from out of state — because the court disproportionately sides with plaintiffs, thus attracting more cases. Here are a few examples of the court's skewed rulings:

  • During 2017, the number of suits against Risperdal has tripled from 2,000 to 6,400. In 2016, a plaintiff from Tennessee brought the case to Philadelphia and was awarded $70 million in damages from using Risperdal.
  • Since 2015, over 1,500 new cases have been filed by Xarelto users. Plaintiffs’ lawyers then aired local TV commercials warning against the use of Xarelto to influence future jurors in these cases.
  • In cases about the side-effects of pelvic mesh, four out of five are from out-of-state plaintiffs as far away as Alaska. One out-of-state plaintiff was awarded $20 million dollars in 2017.
  • Finally, the CLC is fifth in the nation for asbestos lawsuits. Between 2014 and 2016, Philadelphia experienced an increase in both asbestos and mesothelioma lawsuits.

Statewide, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has been placed on the report’s Watch List because the majority of judges are now considered ‘plaintiff-friendly’ to lawsuits against companies.

For example, the state Supreme Court’s ruling in Shinal v. Toms has made it more challenging for doctors to treat patients. Instead of allowing a highly-qualified staff member to gain patients' informed consent, surgeons are now required to meet with every patient to obtain informed consent — meaning they spend less time treating patients. Critics point out that this decision “ignores the realities of modern team medicine and will drive up the cost of medical care.”

The medical liability case is just one example of why the Pennsylvania Supreme Court is on the Watch List. The rulings in Rost v. Ford Motor Co., Protz v. Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board, and Rancosky v. Washington National Insurance Co. all serve as reasons why the Pennsylvania Supreme Court risks becoming a Judicial Hellhole. 

From the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas to the highest court in Pennsylvania, it's time to curb this trend. Stronger caps on punitive damages would be a great start, followed by policies that restrict venue shopping. Pennsylvania lawmakers need to enact these meaningful reforms to ensure taxpayers aren't bearing unnecessary judiciary costs and our courts aren't biased against employers.