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Philadelphia's Removal From "Judicial Hellhole" List: Who Cares What Front Group For Big Tobacco & Insurance Companies Thinks?

ATRA's latest again proves lack of process, lack of standards, and lack of facts.

HARRISBURG, Pa., Dec. 13, 2012 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The following is being released by the Pennsylvania Association for Justice:

In its annual "Judicial Hellhole" release, the American Tort Reform Association (ATRA) removed Philadelphia from the list in response to recent administrative changes enacted by the courts.  The removal raises an essential question: If changes to the courts are good news to a group funded by big tobacco, insurance companies, and pharmaceutical firms -- as ATRA has been -- is that good news for anyone else?

"Every year we hear from ATRA that there needs to be more done to protect their funders' interests, including substantial tort reform," said Scott Cooper, President of the Pennsylvania Association for Justice.  "But if tort reform was a panacea, why is it that four of this year's five 'hellholes' have already enacted tort reform but are still on the list?  It's because ATRA and its funders care more about protecting the guilty than justice for the injured."

In its 2012-13 list, ATRA replaced the City of Philadelphia with the State of California as its number one "hellhole."  While it's unclear how an entire state can replace a single judicial district, it does bring into focus one trademark of the report: the lack of any objective standards.  As the New York Times reported in an analysis of a previous "Hellhole" report, "The question is whether the report's arguments make sense, are supported by evidence and are applied evenhandedly. Here the report often falls short. It is, for starters, a collection of anecdotes based largely on newspaper accounts. It has no apparent methodology."  An independent analysis of the report by a Cornell law professor concluded the evidence cited by ATRA is "substantively inaccurate and methodologically flawed."  When pressed for support for their claims, ATRA itself admitted there wasn't any to speak of: "We have never claimed to be an empirical study," said Darren McKinney, a spokesman for the association. [ New York Times , 12/24/07, Cornell University, School of Law, September 2009, "U.S. Chamber of Commerce Liability Survey: Inaccurate, Unfair, and Bad for Business"]

Independent observers who DO care about facts, however, have routinely and repeatedly called Philadelphia's court system one of the country's best: "The Philadelphia court's handling of civil jury cases is now better than that of any large urban trial court in the United States." [The National Center for State Courts (NCSC)]

"These are reasons why any change supported by ATRA, which refuses to release its current list of donors, should be opposed by those who care about fairness and a level playing field for those who have been injured by another's negligence or malpractice," said Cooper.  "ATRA doesn't care about facts, and we shouldn't care about their opinions.  This report is proof that garbage in gets garbage out."

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