It’s official: Pennsylvania has been identified as the No. 1 “Judicial Hellhole” in the United States, sharing the top spot with Georgia in the American Tort Reform Foundation’s 2023 review of state legal climates.
Factors cited in the annual report include the rising number of “nuclear” verdicts, medical liability lawsuits, “litigation tourism,” mass torts litigation in Philadelphia, and the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s expansion of liability.
Significant jurisdictional changes by both the U.S. and Pennsylvania Supreme Courts have empowered plaintiffs’ lawyers to file lawsuits in plaintiff-friendly venues, particularly in Philadelphia. Additionally, the Mallory v. Norfolk Southern decision broadened opportunities for out-of-state employers to face lawsuits in Pennsylvania, disproportionately in high-verdict courts like the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas.
Philadelphia courts have awarded a record amount of seven-figure “nuclear verdicts” in past years. As a proportion of all rulings, nuclear verdicts rose from three to seven percent between 2017 and 2019, all the way to 11 percent in 2023, accompanied by a rise in plaintiff victories from 41 to 52 percent.
At the same time, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s Hangey v. Husqvarna Professional Products ruling expanded plaintiff-friendly venues, enabling cases with no direct connection to the Commonwealth to be filed in venues like Philadelphia. Furthermore, the elimination of constraints on medical liability filings in Philadelphia from August 2022 led to a 108 percent surge in cases by October 2023, prompting concerns about overwhelming caseloads and potential corresponding rises in medical malpractice insurance costs.
An unbalanced litigation environment can result in significant negative economic implications such as reduced investment, increased costs, job loss, and the improper shifting of costs to taxpayers.
In its state-specific review, ATRF found that excessive tort costs are analogous to a “tort tax” that costs every Pennsylvanian $1,400 per year. When the dynamic effects of excessive litigation are considered, estimates show more than 170,000 jobs are lost, alongside more than $11 billion in personal income.
As the Statewide Voice of Business, the PA Chamber supports legal reforms that help prevent lawsuit abuse while protecting the right of legitimate plaintiffs to seek justice. For more information about our civil justice agenda, please click here.