Philadelphia’s civil courts were found to be among the best in country, contrary to their “judicial hellhole” reputation, a study finds.
Taking Back Our Courts — a civil justice project that protects consumer rights to fair access to legal justice in Philadelphia— released the study last month to disprove that reputation.
Over the past couple of years, Philadelphia’s civil courts have received ridicule for allegedly favoring plaintiffs in civil lawsuits. The American Tort Reform Association named Philadelphia the number one “judicial hellhole” for civil cases in its 2011-2012 report.
The ATRA also claimed that there is a statewide anti-business litigation climate and that the large amount of civil lawsuits filed in Philadelphia each year is uniquely disproportionate to the population despite the high number of lawyers and businesses.
Philadelphia’s Complex Litigation Center is also under attack by the ATRA. The ATRA claimed that the CLC’s mandate which requires tort cases to go to trial within two years after filing draws plaintiffs to Philadelphia. This in turn increases the number of lawsuits in the city.
The ATRA, however, did note that the CLC is efficient, but also said the CLC might be putting efficiency before fairness by not giving defendants adequate time to assess and defend the numerous claims made against them.
However, Taking Back Our Courts said the ATRA’s report is inaccurate. In response, the organization released its own analysis of Philadelphia’s civil courts, titled “Justice for Philadelphia Courts.”
David Ward, civil justice organizer at Taking Back Our Courts, is the main author of the report. Referring to the ATRA, he said, “When I started realizing what was going on, it was pretty outrageous to hear a group like that using such extreme language.”
Ward said the biggest issue at hand is disproving the ATRA’s claims. The report assesses a collection a data from nonpartisan sources.
In response to the accusation of a plaintiff bias, the report found that on average, plaintiff winners in Philadelphia tort cases win less money than in other Pennsylvania counties. Nationwide, the city ranks in the bottom 30 percent in total damages awarded to plaintiffs in tort trial cases.
Ward said the main purpose of the report is to prove that the courts are not too extreme on either side, showing no evidence of bias toward plaintiffs or defendants.
“My own experience in Philadelphia is that I don’t find it to be tipped unfairly in anyway toward plaintiffs,” Penn Law professor David Rudovsky said. “There is an ideological war being fought here.”
The report also cites the National Center for State Courts praise, which calls calling the civil section “one of the finest and most successful urban trial courts in the country.”
However, Rudovsky said the report’s findings should in no way be applied to Philadelphia’s criminal courts. “That’s a whole different issue … it’s apples and oranges,” he said.
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