California Tops Controversial Civil ‘Hellhole” List

Heralded by pro-business “tort reform” groups and blasted by left-leaning organizations, an annual “Judicial Hellholes” ranking is out today and California tops the list. The list has been compiled for the past decade as a project of the American Tort Reform Association, or ATRA, which campaigns on behalf of business interests; while widely known and frequently cited among the nation’s civil litigation community, it typically receives little mainstream media attention.
The tort-reform side of the argument is stated fairly well by Daniel Fisher at Forbes who writes: “News flash: Madison, County, Ill. is no longer the nation’s worst place for corporations to find themselves in court. California took top honors in the American Tort Reform’s annual “Judicial Hellholes” list, an unashamedly pro-defendant look at the nation’s judicial system. The Golden State won for the welcoming stance its courts take toward consumer class actions – particularly against food companies – and rampant lawsuits targeting small businesses over disability-access rules.” 
But the left-leaning Media Matters blog report dismisses the report, writing that it “… annually lists states that have court systems ATRA [the American Tort Reform Association] considers to be the most ‘unfair and unbalanced’ to defendants in the civil justice system, has been previously discredited for having no valid methodology and relying on unverified anecdotes drawn from press accounts. The Center for Justice & Democracy at New York Law School describes the ATRA’s members as being ‘largely Fortune 500 companies with a direct financial stake in restricting lawsuits.’ It is unsurprising, therefore, that the ‘Hellholes’ reports regularly feature jurisdictions that corporate defendants feel are not favorable to their interests. In fact, the report describes its methodology as largely based on vaguely described ‘feedback’ from ATRA members.”
The report gained coverage in the Wall Street Journal editorial pages, which we should note are considered much more conservative than the newspaper’s news sections. So it’s worth noting that the report is widely seen by business leaders and even critics acknowledge that, at minimum, it indicates what “largely Fortune 500 companies” think about the state.
You can see the entire report and much more, including a cool flaming gavel logo here.
Here’s a good argument totally debunking the study from Sergio Munoz at Media Matters.
The Forbes piece written by staffer Daniel Fisher that explains why the report matters is here.
Follow us on Twitter @CACourtsMonitor