Judicial Hellholes? Not Exactly.

Each year the American Tort Reform Foundation publishes its “Judicial Hellhole” report, seeking to enhance awareness of jurisdictions, legal decisions, and other matters which may disadvantage defendants in civil litigation.  The 2017-2018 edition of this report included Philadelphia (#4) and New Jersey (#8) at the top (or, is that bottom?) of the list.    

Philadelphia has long held a reputation as plaintiff-friendly and to generally classify “New Jersey” as one venue is simply inaccurate.  Meanwhile, Philadelphia isn’t as rough-and-tumble, or unfriendly, as you’d think.  You can get a fair shake in both places. 

In our experience, the judges and juries in both Philadelphia and throughout the Garden State are fair.   We enjoy venues where cases keep moving and the courts remain involved in case management.  Efficient litigation and fair juries exist, they’re even a reality. In short, a corporate defendant may successfully and efficiently defend cases in Philadelphia and New Jersey. 

This year’s report also put the Pennsylvania Supreme Court itself on the “watch list” calling attention to “troubling developments,” particularly the Court’s decision in Rancosky v. Washington National Insurance Co.  This opinion was the first time the Supreme Court interpreted the standard for Pennsylvania’s bad faith statute, which had been first set in 1994’s Terletsky v. Prudential.  A number of commentators have assessed the the Rancosky decision since it was issued last September.  However, we have reviewed and analyzed the decision ourselves and concluded that that it is not as negative as portrayed, as many have said and written.  The Rancosky holding largely retained the same standard first articulated 24 years ago in Terletsky: plaintiffs must prove that an insurer lacked a reasonable basis for its coverage decision and that the insurer knew of or recklessly disregarded their lack of a reasonable basis. Importantly, the demanding standard of proof in a bad faith case remained the same, i.e. plaintiffs must prove their case via clear & convincing evidence.

All that said, we litigate regularly throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey, with a significant presence in Philadelphia.  Each Pennsylvania county has a different feel, a home-town element, as well as open-minded judges and juries. Same for New Jersey.  Camden County differs significantly from its bordering county, Burlington, while Essex and Sussex are different environments altogether.  As different as the Flyers and Rangers, or the E-A-G-L-E-S, Giants and J-E-T-S. 

Our clients have endured venue-based concerns, demanding Judges, and jury panels that have little patience for certain parties or legal theories. This occurs everywhere. It also doesn’t mean that each (or any) of those counties – or whole states — are hellholes. To the contrary. (June 4, 2018)


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