In spite of tort reforms in the state, Texas counties -- including Jefferson County -- have again found themselves near the top of the list of "judicial hellholes."
With the Dec. 18 release of its annual Judicial HellholesÃ¯Â¿Â½ report, the American Tort Reform Foundation again collectively cited the Rio Grande Valley and Gulf Coast of Texas among the nation's most unfair civil court jurisdictions. The Texas counties were at the No. 2 spot on the list for 2007.
"Though Texas enacted important tort reforms in 2003 and 2004, vastly improving its civil justice climate," began ATRF president Sherman "Tiger" Joyce, "personal injury lawyers are still managing to live high off the hog in Jefferson, Brazoria, Cameron, Hidalgo, Nueces, Starr and Zapata counties.
"Last year's 'Hellholes' report noted a new wave of intellectual property litigation in these jurisdictions" Joyce continued. "This year, personal injury lawsuits in connection to the dredging of Texas ports comprise a troublesome rising tide."
American Tort Reform Association general counsel Victor Schwartz added that Texas's neighbor, New Mexico, has increasingly been home to inequitable civil trials and procedures, too, qualifying it for the report's "Watch List" this year.
"Several northern counties in New Mexico, and possibly Chaves County, may be developing a reputation as one big Judicial Hellhole," Schwartz reported. "For example, in June, an Albuquerque court awarded the state's highest personal injury verdict ever Ã¯Â¿Â½ $54 million, including $50 million in punitive damages Ã¯Â¿Â½ against a nursing home in connection with the death of a 78-year-old patient.
"And, in a classic case of forum shopping this year," Schwartz noted, "a family from Socorro County traveled 200 miles to bring a wrongful death action against Nissan in plaintiff-friendly San Miguel County. They did not live there, the car accident did not occur there and Nissan did not have a registered agent there. But none of that seemed to bother trial judge. He let the case proceed."
Turning to the report's "Dishonorable Mentions" section, Joyce pointed to another Texas neighbor.
"Oklahoma went through a rollercoaster year that included the state's supreme court striking down important litigation reforms enacted in 2003. The legislature eagerly passed new reforms, but a governor who was long-supportive of such measures ultimately vetoed them. As a result, Oklahomans have squandered some of the progress made in recent years and additional reforms have lost momentum," Joyce said.
Full text of the Judicial HellholesÃ¯Â¿Â½ 2007 report is posted at http://www.atra.org. The report's various rankings are summarized below.
2007 Judicial Hellholes
Rio Grande Valley and Gulf Coast, Texas
Cook County, Illinois
Clark County, Nevada
Atlantic County, New Jersey
Madison County, Illinois
St. Clair County, Illinois
Northern New Mexico
Hillsborough County, Florida
District of Columbia: Consumer Law Takes Small Businesses to the Cleaners
Missouri Supreme Court: No Injury, No Problem
Michigan Legislature: Barely Repels Full Scale Assault on Civil Justice System
Georgia Supreme Court: Judicial Nullification of Tort Reform
Oklahoma Double Play: State Supreme Court and Governor Set Back Litigation Fairness
Points of Light
West Virginia's Medical Malpractice Reforms Yield Results
Ohio Judge Denies Fabricated Claims: The Asbestos Buck Stops here
Mississippi Supreme Court: No Injury, No Money
Florida Courts Overturn Excessive Verdicts: Sunshine State Rains on Punitive Damages Parade
How a Bill Becomes a Law 101: Ohio Supreme Court Rejects Attempt to Veto Legislation After It Becomes Law
Courts Hold Line on Public Nuisance Claims
The American Tort Reform Association (ATRA) is the only national organization dedicated exclusively to tort and liability reform through public education and the enactment of legislation. ATRA's membership includes non profits, small and large companies, as well as state and national trade, business, and professional associations.