Am I Living in a Judicial Hellhole?

No this is not a new song by Lady Gaga. This is a another honor, or should I say dishonor, bestowed upon the Golden State. The American Tort Reform Association releases an annual Judicial Hellholes report. This year California ranks second on its list of Judicial Hellholes. This year’s report focuses on six areas in the nation that are known for uneven justice.

This year, the top honor goes to Philadelphia, Pennslyvania. The City of Brotherly love is also in a love affair with trial lawyers I guess. Litigation tourism is being viewed by some as a form of economic stimulous. Punitive damages over $1 million in Philadelphia have reportedly tripled.

In second place is California, particularly Los Angeles and Humboldt counties. In Los Angeles, a $208.8 million verdict for a single asbestos claimant, the largest such award in California history, is a prime example. Humboldt county hosted a $677 million class action verdict against a nursing home provider for occasionally falling below staffing levels required by state regulators, even though no injury was claimed by the plaintiffs. These in addition to extortionate disability access claims against small businesses and expansive liability have placed California as a judicial hellole.

12 Wishes for 2011 and Beyond

A new legislature has been sworn in and we are now in the process of shaping our state’s future, which is faced with serious unemployment and deficits and a very unclear future. Even the Chairman of the Federal Reserve, Ben Bernanke has said this economy might take 4-5 years to straighten out. So what better to do than to put California on a positive legal reform course, which would help economic recovery? If I had 12 wishes for legal reform in California it would probably go something like this:

1. A Governor and legislature who worked to make California a places businesses want to grow and can thrive.

2. For all California residents to serve when called for jury duty.

3. An end to class action lawsuits, at least as the system is designed now. They keep on coming and the consumers lose every time.

4. Leave the Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act of 1975 alone. It has worked.

Lessons in Lawsuits

Cross posted at

This week, CALA released a report on litigation costs to 12 of California’s school districts, finding that in just three fiscal years, these schools spent $98.7 million.

report examined verdicts, settlements and outside counsel costs to
Capistrano Unified, Elk Grove Unified, Fresno Unified, Kern High
School, Long Beach Unified, Los Angeles Unified, Merced Union High
School, Modesto City, Poway Unified, San Diego Unified, San Juan
Unified, and Santa Ana Unified.

would think at a time when a record number of our schools are in
financial trouble and further education cuts are likely ahead, we would
not allow these litigation costs to go unchecked. California continues
to rank among the most litigious states in every study yet we rank at
the bottom in many measures of student performance. The more dollars
our schools have to pay in litigation costs, the less we have to
improve our students’ performance.

The Class Action from Hell

A recent lawsuit against Skilled Healthcare California LLC has
had little or no coverage and it is amazing. Skilled Healthcare
California was hit with a penalty of $671 million dollars by a Humboldt
County jury. And that does not even include the punitive damages. The
core issue was whether the company violated a state law requiring
nursing homes to provide a minimum of 3.2 nursing hours per patient per
day (ppd). The key word here is minimum.

care in this state and country is a huge issue. Skilled Healthcare has
never received one complaint against it on the California Nursing Home
Directory. However, this did not stop the plaintiffs’ attorneys. The
judgement was leveled against Skilled Nursing on behalf of the 32,000
patients it has in California, awarding the maximum damages over a six
year period to the whole class.

is a company that provides 14,000 jobs to people in California. Its
stock price plummeted 75% on news of the judgement. It looks like it
cannot appeal the decision because to do so you have to post a bond of
150% to do so and its assets are approximately $2 million. It has also
exhausted its primary professional liability insurance.

Is The Shrek Toy Making Us Fat?

Cross posted at

I am certainly
not a role model for eating habits.

Believe me I will jump at an
Entenmann’s donut any day of the week over a salad, but you will not
see me sue Entenmann’s. I guess I should have seen it coming. First the
County Board of Supervisors in Santa Clara banned McDonald’s from
putting toys in its Happy Meals. Now comes the Center for Science in
the Public Interest sending a letter of intent to sue McDonald’s if the toys are not removed from all Happy Meals.

What is Going on with the CA Commission on Disability Access?

Cross posted at

The CA Commission on Disability Access (CCDA) was established through legislation (SB 1608)
signed by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in the fall of 2008. It is a
17-member commission with a budget of $80,000 and six committees. One
of the committees is the Civil Enforcement Committee, which is designed
to look at the whole issue of litigation in California related to the
Americans with Disability Act.

Has this committee met since January 1st, 2009? No. Was it supposed
to meet? Yes. On May 27th it was supposed to have its first
meeting. However it was cancelled due to lack of quorum. It will likely
be rescheduled in July sometime. In the meantime ADA lawsuits are being
filed left and right throughout the state.

I think it is fair to say that most people in the business community
supported SB 1608, not because it was the model legislation that would
rid us of these predatory lawsuits, but because it is a compromise that
has the potential to end the the rampage of lawsuits being filed by a
bunch of trial lawyers in this state. Has it done that?  No. Not even
close. And the CCDA is doing nothing about it.

Trial Lawyer Lobby Day Equals No Legal Reform

Cross posted at

Are you surprised?

I guess I should not be, but there is still a little
of me that thought some legislators would get it. Clearly, they do not.

As the trial lawyers swooped down on Sacramento for their annual right
of passage
, I truly thought there might be a glimmer of hope for legal reform,
but not this year and, quite frankly, probably not for a while to
come.Interestingly, the Consumer Attorneys of California had scheduled
its Lobby Day on May 4, the same day that the Assembly Judiciary
Committee was meeting in Sacramento. This is an important policy
committee that deals with all legislation related to legal reform.

Voter Education – Where do the Candidates Stand on Legal Reform?

One of the key things CALA will be doing this spring and fall is sending questionnaires to candidates asking where they stand on key legal reform issues. Our questionnaires cover topics such as the impact of litigation on the economy, class action reform and penalties for filing frivolous lawsuits, among others. Most importantly we will be asking them whether they will be accepting contributions from the Consumer Attorneys of California or any of its affiliated political action committees.

According to the Civil Justice Associaton of California, the trial lawyers have given approximately $35.2 million dollars in contributions over the past decade. The trial lawyer influence in elections run vast and deep. Just in 2009, they gave approximately $1 million to incumbent state officials and candidates.

California needs to focus on creating jobs, not a legal climate that encourages more litigation. The reason we are in this economic mess is due to too many taxes, over regulation and a legal climate that is out of control. The legislature needs to adopt legal reforms that will help create jobs in our state, not drive them away.

How Low Can You Go?

According to the Institute for Legal Reform, California can go lower – nearly to the bottom. California once again slipped further down the rankings from 44th to 46th in the ILR’s Lawsuit Climate 2010. The only states whose legal climates ranked worse than California’s are Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and West Virginia are worse. How’s that for company?

What is even sadder is that our state legislature does not seem to get it. The policy committees that could very easily push through some reform are unwilling to give legal reform a serious chance. So it is business as usual and California continues to slip further down the rankings.

It’s worth taking a look at what earned California is ranking of 46. California’s courts remain a haven for class action lawsuits. California also has a reputation for large jury awards, which adds to its lawsuit-friendly perception. The state is also a growing hot spot for asbestos litigation. Out of state attorneys continue to flock to California to benefit from the state judiciary’s favorable rules towards asbestos suits.

Don’t Make Excuses – Serve on a Jury

A Los Angeles Times article titled, “Weighed Down By Recession Woes, Jurors Are Becoming Disgruntled,” brought to light some serious concerns about the California jury system.

A few years ago when we went to the one day, one trial system everyone was excited and cheering about how great the system had become. Well, it seems like the happy times are over and our jury system is showing some signs of wear and tear. I will be honest that I was just called for jury service and I was not too thrilled. I have been called a lot and ironically, my wife never gets called. Can someone explain that to me?  We are both registered voters and we both have California drivers licenses and have lived at the same residence for 13 years.

I have been through this plenty of times and find the process rather demeaning. You take time out of your schedule and you are treated like cattle. But, as demeaning as the process is, you really need to serve, even in these hard economic times. We all are experiencing some form of financial hardship during this times, but don’t make excuses. This is only time our country asks us to take the time to serve. It should not be too much to ask considering all the freedoms that come along with being an American.