By Amaris Elliott-Engel
Of the Legal Staff
A spokesman for a conservative group that aims to change tort law, the American Tort Reform Association, said Philadelphia will be coming off its "judicial hellholes" list as the Court of Common Pleas sees a dramatic drop in mass tort filings and the administrative judge of the trial division has repeatedly said that out-of-state plaintiffs should file their suits elsewhere.
Darren McKinney, director of communications for ATRA, said that, ahead of the release of the group's annual list, "I can't with a straight face call Philadelphia a hellhole right now." But McKinney said Philadelphia likely would be on its watch list.
McKinney attributed much of the improvement to Judge John W. Herron, who was appointed administrative judge of the trial division a little under a year ago. As administrative judge, Herron has several times made comments that plaintiffs lawyers should file their cases elsewhere and issued protocols to change the rules for the Complex Litigation Center, which houses mass tort cases.
"He's going to be our prince, our king" in the report, McKinney said.
ATRA said in 2010 that Philadelphia was a judicial hellhole because, among other reasons, scheduling mass tort cases involving multiple plaintiffs put pressure on defendants to settle cases because of the challenge of preparing to go to trial in a case with several plaintiffs represented by multiple law firms. The new protocols included ending reverse-bifurcation for asbestos cases and ending both reverse-bifurcation and consolidation for pharmaceutical cases. The Court of Common Pleas is projecting that 60 percent fewer mass tort cases will be filed this year than were filed in 2011.
The number of mass tort cases grew after Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas President Judge Pamela Pryor Dembe said in 2009 that the center's administrators wanted to take "business away from other courts" and that the court's budget would benefit because of filing fees generated because of mass torts.
Herron’s reforms, at least thus far, are “rolling up the red carpet” for out-of-state plaintiffs, McKinney said.