ATRA's "Judicial Hellholes" Early Gift for Corporate CEOs

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ATRA's "Judicial Hellholes" Early Gift for Corporate CEOs 

For Immediate Release: December 16, 2008

Contact: Ray De Lorenzi
202.965.3500, ext. 8369

Washington, DC – The American Tort Reform Association’s “judicial hellholes” is an early holiday present for its tobacco and insurance financers.   The recycled annual report, widely debunked and ridiculed in past years, is funded by negligent corporations and industries to undermine the civil justice system and the rights of everyday Americans.

“This report is another reminder of how corporations use front groups like ATRA to undermine the civil justice system,” said American Association for Justice (AAJ) CEO Jon Haber.  “ATRA’s drug, tobacco, and insurance financers spend millions on junk reports so they can continue their negligent behavior and avoid accountability.”

ATRA has been funded by corporate giants such as Philip Morris, Dow Chemical, Exxon, General Electric, Aetna, Geico, State Farm, Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson and Nationwide – a “who’s who” of corporations with the most to gain by shutting the courthouse doors on consumers.  Legal Times has also reported that, “most of ATRA's funding comes from large corporate donors. Insurance firms … are each good for $50,000 or $75,000, one unnamed lobbyist familiar with the Association told the publication.” [“Proponents of Reform,” Legal Times, 4/17/95; ATRA website: http://www.atra.org/about/members.php]

Here’s what the experts say about ATRA’s report:

  • ATRA’s 2007 report was accurately described by the New York Times [Liptak, 12/24/2007] as having “no apparent methodology” and that “the question is whether the report’s arguments make sense . . . the report often falls short.”  The 2008 edition makes no changes in this regard.
  • "ATRA's hellhole campaign began in 2002, and it falls squarely within [the] tradition of scaring the public, but with a twist--this time the explicit goal is to appeal to the public as voters, to scare state politicians into making pro-defendant changes in the law in order to make the label go away, and to get rid of judges whose rulings made ATRA members unhappy.  Judicial Hellholes are selected in whatever way suits ATRA's political goals.  The choice is not based on research into the actual conditions in the courts." [Thornburg, West Virginia Law Review, Vol. 110 2008]

Flaws in Past “Judicial Hellhole” Reports:

  • Wrong State. ATRA Forced to Admit Mistake in their 2005 “Hellhole” Report.  Following the release of their 2005 “judicial hellhole” report, ATRA was forced to admit that they wrongly attacked the state of West Virginia for a major lawsuit that wasn’t even filed in the state.  According to the report, West Virginia’s ranking as the third worst “hellhole” in America was based, in part, because of a lawsuit against the DuPont chemical company that was supposedly filed in the state.  In fact, the lawsuit, which alleged that the company exposed consumers to toxic chemicals used to make their Teflon nonstick coatings, was not filed in West Virginia.  When informed of the error by a reporter from the Charleston Gazette newspaper, ATRA posted a correction admitting the mistake on its website.  However, the group refused to change West Virginia’s ranking in the report. [“Tort reform group criticizes W.Va. for Fla. Lawsuit; Score unchanged despite admission error was made,” Charleston Gazette (West Virginia), 12/15/05]
  • Report and Facts Don’t Match.  According to the Associated Press, the County Identified By ATRA as a Top “Judicial Hellhole” Actually Saw a “Sharp Decline” in Asbestos and Class-Action Lawsuits.  Beginning in 2002, ATRA singled-out Madison County, Illinois for being one of the worst of these “hellholes” in America.  However, according to the Associated Press, Madison County actually experienced a sharp decline in both asbestos and class-action lawsuits. [ATRA website, http://www.atra.org/reports/hellholes/; “Lawsuits fall in Madison City,” Associated Press, 12/28/04]
  • The Cases Aren’t There. One of ATRA’s Top “Judicial Hellholes” Had Only Four Medical Malpractice Verdicts Favoring Plaintiffs Between 1996 and 2003.  The Belleville News-Democrat reported that between 1996 and 2003, Madison County, Illinois – one of ATRA’s top “judicial hellholes” – had only eleven medical malpractice and wrongful death cases that resulted in verdicts.  Of these eleven verdicts, four favored plaintiffs.  Moreover, only one these pro-plaintiff verdicts exceeded $1 million. [Belleville News-Democrat, 7/18/04]
  • It Doesn’t Make Sense. West Virginia has climbed up ATRA’s rankings despite enacting tort reform.  In 2002 West Virginia was not even on ATRA’s list, in 2003 the state was ranked fourth, in 2004 and 2005 the state had climbed to 3rd and in 2006 the entire state was ranked first.  During this time West Virginia has passed caps on medical malpractice damages, elimination of third party bad faith, and significantly changed workers compensation and joint and several rules.
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