Blame courts, Leg­is­la­ture for Pa. fail­ing on jobs

The Southern Berks News - - OPINION - Guest col­umn » Curt Schroder 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 Rep­re­sen­tati

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.

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