Monday, April 16, 2012

Myth of Philadelphia Courts as "Hellhole" Takes Another Hit

Civil Jury Verdict Awards Decrease 31% in Philadelphia Last Year

April 16, 2012

PHILADELPHIA, PA – The myth that Philadelphia civil courts are "extreme" or a "hellhole" continues to be countered by facts. A new summary by the legal news site has found Philadelphia civil courts and juries to be impartial towards plaintiffs or the defense.

"This new data reinforces the truth that Philadelphia's civil courts really are among the best in the nation" said Michael Morrill, Executive Director of Keystone Progress. "Our courts can't give into the myths and falsehoods that extreme groups like the American Tort Reform Association are known to construct."

The new summary says Philadelphia civil jury verdicts were nearly split in their decisions between plaintiffs and defense. For civil jury verdicts, plaintiffs won 51.4% of the time, while for judicial awards only 53.5% of the time did plaintiffs win.

Philadelphia civil juries decreased its plaintiff award amounts by 31% and lowered the total number of verdicts that were over $1 million from 36 to 32. Additionally, the average civil jury award amount in Philadelphia dropped from $1.49 million in 2010 to $1.2 million in 2011.

These recent findings only bolster a recent report by Taking Back Our Courts: Justice for Philadelphia Courts. The report finds that Philadelphia’s civil courts are among the best in the country. By citing independent data, the report concludes that Philadelphia’s courts have been maligned by innuendo, false information and a well-funded campaign by pro-corporate lobbying organizations.

The recent report, Justice for Philadelphia Courts: A qualitative and quantitative analysis on the quality ofjustice administered by Philadelphia Courts, is the first to combine all of the most recent data available measuring the effectiveness and fairness of Philadelphia’s courts.

The most recent official reports paint a far different picture than the portrait constructed by national special interest groups. Far from being a “judicial hellhole” overrun by frivolous cases, the data show that Philadelphia’s court system not only has an appropriate number of cases, but it handles them quickly and efficiently with no obvious bias for or against one side.
The report found the following:

● The National Center for State Courts praised Philadelphia’s Complex Litigation Center (CLC) for its high levels of success in accuracy and fairness of a large number of complex cases in its courts. Furthermore, the NCSC recognizes that the Philadelphia court's handling of civil jury cases is now better than that of any large urban trial court in the United States.

● Comparing the plaintiff median amounts awarded in tort trials to other courts in the most populous counties in the United States, Philadelphia courts are significantly below the national median. For example, the median award amount of winners in New York, NY was $227,000, in Miami (Dade), FL it was $128,000 and in Los Angeles, CA it was $106,000. Philadelphia tort trial plaintiffs won a median amount of $20,000.

● The Philadelphia courts have been awarded a number of accolades. The list in the report highlights only a sampling of the awards that the First District Court has won over the past 7 years.

● Philadelphia ranks in the bottom 30% of major metropolitan areas in terms of median final damage amounts awarded to plaintiffs in tort trials.

Recent attacks by well-funded corporate lobbying groups have been driving the narrative that Philadelphia courts are among the worst in the nation. This includes the American Tort Reform Association's (ATRA) targeting of Philadelphia courts in its most recent Judicial Hellholes report.

The new report cites independent sources who concluded that the "evidence" in the Judicial Hellhole's report is "substantively inaccurate and methodologically flawed."

Recent reforms made by Philadelphia courts, in particular those initiated by Common Pleas Court Judge W. Herron, increasingly have been seen to be the result of the courts bending to outside political pressure by extreme conservative groups like the American Tort Reform Association and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Taking Back Our Courts is a civil justice project of Keystone Progress, designed to protect Philadelphia courts and promote fair access to justice for consumers. Keystone Progress is Pennsylvania’s largest online progressive organization, with over 270,000 subscribers. KP uses the Internet and new media to organize online at the state and local level; and utilizes cutting-edge earned media strategies to promote a progressive agenda and counter right-wing misinformation.

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