Blame courts, Legislature for Pa. failing on jobs
The U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform just announced its ranking of states’ legal climates and the news is not good for Pennsylvania.
Pennsylvania ranks a lowly 38 out of 50 states when it comes to having a litigation climate that is conducive to job creation and retention, according to the 2017 Lawsuit Climate Survey. This report shows that Pennsylvania has been ranked in the low 30s in the last six surveys dating back to 2008.
Why does Pennsylvania find itself floundering near the bottom of states when it comes to litigation hurting our economy and the creation of good jobs? Two reasons: the courts and the Pennsylvania Legislature.
The Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas continues to pump out record verdicts with no sense of proportionality or recognition of the negative consequences. Recently, Johnson & Johnson was hit with a $57.1 million verdict. A Philadelphia hospital suffered a $10.1 million verdict. Six-thousand lawsuits have been filed against Johnson & Johnson over its Risperdal product in Philadelphia and another 1,500 cases over its blood thinner Xarelto. Philadelphia is the fifth most popular place to file asbestos claims and third most popular for mesothelioma suits. Philadelphia’s notoriously high verdicts have created a new industry in Philadelphia: Litigation tourism! That is where attorneys file cases in Philadelphia even though there is no connection to the city except the lawyer seeking a big payout!
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has also issued some troubling decisions that impair economic progress and growth. Recently, the court has eased the evidence needed to prevail in asbestos cases. The same court has placed additional administrative burdens on doctors, requiring them to take time away from their practice in order to handle paperwork that was previously handled by qualified office personnel. Employers can no longer track the recovery of their employees hurt on the job thanks to new restrictions imposed by the court. When courts make outlandish payouts and expand an employer’s exposure to liability, the message is sent that Pennsylvania is closed for business but open for lawsuits!
The Legislature has not passed meaningful litigation reform legislation since 2011 when it finally stopped those with deep pockets, but no fault, from being sued merely for their ability to pay.
So far, this legislative session, the Pennsylvania General Assembly has taken no action to prevent double dipping in asbestos cases, to limit the amount of money outside counsel can earn when representing the state, to protect the availability of nursing home care in our communities, to recognize the unique challenges faced by emergency room physicians, and to acknowledge that products have a limit to their useful life. The General Assembly needs to understand that large verdicts result in less money available to create jobs and care for patients.
The 2017 Lawsuit Climate Survey is a useful reminder that much work needs to be done in Pennsylvania to create a balance in our laws and courts. The Pennsylvania Coalition for Civil Justice Reform is working to educate the public on the need for fair laws and fair courts and we applaud the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform for this useful comparison with other states.
Our policy makers can either enact the reforms needed to lift Pennsylvania’s status in creating jobs or wonder why we continue to lag behind the national unemployment rate and job creation statistics. Curt Schroder is executive director of the Pennsylvania Coalition for Civil Justice Reform, a not-for-profit and nonpartisan organization based in Harrisburg. Schroder served 17 years in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives.