The American Tort Reform Association released its annual ranking of “judicial hellholes.” Philadelphia topped the list, and Atlantic County, New Jersey made its watch list. Tiger Joyce, the Association President, says multi-million dollar awards for plaintiffs in big lawsuits — many involving the pharmaceutical industry — have long-term effects on the health care system. “When the system of civil justice is applied in a way that is unfair and unbalanced, it impacts the ability to deliver healthcare and ultimately the problems and the costs are passed on to the consumer,” he said. Judge Pamela Pryor Dembe, the Common Pleas President in Philadelphia, disagrees. She says her court works hard with both plaintiffs and defendants, and that the court’s rulings are generally about 50/50. “The myth of Philadelphia breaking the bank is I think an exaggeration of some few members of the defense bar,” she said. The Association’s report focused on Pennsylvania’s Complex Litigation Center (CLC) which handles suits with long lists of plaintiffs. Currently the CLC has seventeen large-scale programs on its docket. The majority are medically related. Some of these cases originate elsewhere, or involve plaintiffs who live out of state. And that’s what the Association finds particularly troubling with Philadelphia and Atlantic County. Joyce says that judges like Dembe are actively trying to recruit out of state cases, a practice he calls “litigation tourism.” “If there is an effort to try to attract litigation into Philadelphia, how is that possibly good for the people in Philadelphia?” asked Joyce. “How is that possibly helpful to the local economy and even the state-wide economy? You have to start to ask your question ‘Whose interest does it really serve?'”Dembe’s says the court actively tries to recruit these cases, and the reason why is simple. “Those cases are going to be tried somewhere,” she said. “It is very efficient to try them in batches, so if that is the case it has been a real boom for Philadelphia. These folks stay in hotels. These folks use court reporters. These folks eat meals while they’re here. There are a lot of ways outside the court system where the city benefits from it. That business is going somewhere. So I’m not going to lose sleep about bringing it to Philadelphia because money that comes in to the city benefits us all and provides the money that keeps my court system running.”
Joyce argues that this increased revenue is an irresponsible way to boost a city’s economy. Dembe calls Joyce’s report biased, maintaining that the Complex Litigation Center is one of the most efficient courts in the country.