. . . And the Sky is Blue: Study Shows that Plaintiffs Prefer to File Civil Cases in Philadelphia

Author: Marc L. Penchansky

UPDATE: On February 15, 2012, the Court of Common Plea in Philadelphia County announced changes to the CLC. The Honorable Judge John W. Herron entered General Court Regulation No. 2012-01. The Order eliminated reverse bifurcation in mass tort and asbestos cases unless agreed upon by the parties. The order further limited consolidation in mass tort cases. Out-of-state counsel admitted pro hac vice may only try two mass tort cases a year in Philadelphia. The Court also asked out-of-state asbestos plaintiffs to seek other venues to file their claims in order to resolve a backlog of asbestos cases in Philadelphia.

Earlier this month, the International Center for Law and Economics issued an appendix to its previously published study entitled Are Plaintiffs Drawn to Philadelphia’s Civil Courts? An Empirical Analysis.” It is likely that many Philadelphia area attorneys did not need to break the spine of the study or await the publication of the appendix to answer the title’s question – yes, plaintiffs are attracted to the Philadelphia court system. Indeed, the American Tort Reform Foundation had already labeled Philadelphia with the attention-getting moniker, America’s Number One Judicial Hellhole.

The principal study found that Philadelphia courts had a larger caseload than expected. Further, the study found that Philadelphia plaintiffs overwhelmingly preferred jury trials and were less likely to settle. (p. 2). The preference for Philadelphia as venue for civil cases became particularly apparent when Pennsylvania restricted venue in medical malpractice cases. In 2003, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania required medical malpractice lawsuits to be filed in the county where the cause of action arose. See Pa.R.C.P. 1006(a.1). The filings of medical malpractice cases in Philadelphia declined 64.9 % from 2000 through 2010. (p. 29). Other Pennsylvania counties observed only a 28.2 % decline during that same time period. (p. 29).

The study also focused on the Complex Litigation Center (CLC). The CLC was the nation’s first courthouse “designed exclusively for complex multi-filed Mass Tort cases . . .” According to the authors, the CLC actively sought to recruit the filing of lawsuits in Philadelphia. (pp. 8-9). The CLC accomplished this by offering to plaintiffs quick and rather rigid trial dates. (p. 9). Further, the CLC required only federally mandated minimum contacts to establish jurisdiction and was permissive in permitting venue. (p. 9). When these attributes are coupled with Philadelphia’s reputation as a big-verdict forum, the hope was that Philadelphia would become attractive to Plaintiffs’ attorneys and “tak[e] business away from other courts.” (pp. 8-9).

The recently released Appendix to the report collected data from mass tort cases filed in Philadelphia. The author tried to ascertain plaintiffs’ home addresses and the locations of the alleged injuries. In 1357 cases, the author learned the home address of the plaintiff and/or the injury location. In 67.2 % of those suits, no connection between Pennsylvania and the plaintiff was apparent (App. at p. 2). Only 13.3% of those cases were filed by plaintiffs who live or were allegedly injured in Philadelphia. (App. at p. 2).

When only home address is considered, 72.8 % of plaintiffs reside out-of-state while a mere 6.1 % of plaintiffs report Philadelphia home addresses. (App. at p. 2). In those cases where evidence of the site of the alleged injury was available, only 35.8% alleged injury in Philadelphia and another 33.1% alleged injury in another Pennsylvania county. When asbestos cases are removed from the calculations, the numbers are more startling. Only 16% of the injuries were located in Pennsylvania and 12% were located in Philadelphia. (app. at pp. 4 and 5).

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