Annual Judicial Hellholes Report Demonstrates Continuing Impact on Environmental and Toxic Tort Litigation

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The recently released American Tort Reform Foundation 2020-21 Judicial Hellholes Report highlights nine U.S. jurisdictions where expansive civil litigation continued notwithstanding the COVID-19 pandemic and is expected to flourish. In most of these jurisdictions, mass toxic tort and environmental litigation has been prevalent.

Topping this year’s list is the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas and the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, followed by New York City and California. South Carolina, Louisiana, and Georgia round out the fourth, fifth, and sixth positions. St. Louis, Missouri, perennial problem Cook, Madison, and St. Clair Counties in Illinois, and Minnesota fill out the final three positions, respectively.

The report calls attention to seven additional “Watch List” jurisdictions that are worthy of careful monitoring due to their histories of abusive litigation or other developments. The Watch List jurisdictions include Florida, Oklahoma, New Jersey, Colorado, Maryland, West Virginia, and the Montana Supreme Court.

The report presents data that total asbestos lawsuit filings were down 13% in 2020, but notes Philadelphia was one of the few jurisdictions that saw an increase in filings through the first two quarters of 2020, seeing an 11.7% rise in asbestos litigation. Philadelphia remains in the Top 4 most popular jurisdictions to file lawsuits claiming injuries from asbestos exposure.

New York City continues to be a preferred jurisdiction for asbestos litigation with a 7.2% increase in filings during the second quarter of 2020, compared to the same time in 2019. New York City has also seen a rise in talc litigation filings in 2020 and is at the forefront of climate change litigation.

Litigation arising out of Prop-65, which requires businesses to place warning signs on products when tests reveal the presence of even the slightest, non-threatening trace of close to 1,000 listed chemicals that state environmental regulators deemed carcinogenic or otherwise toxic, continues to impact the high volume of litigation throughout California. Notably, Prop-65 allows private citizens, advocacy groups, and attorneys to sue on behalf of the state and collect a portion of the monetary penalties and settlements, which creates an incentive for the plaintiffs’ bar to file thousands of Prop-65 lawsuits.

St. Louis, Missouri, and California are the preferred venues for tens of thousands of lawsuits against Bayer AG involving Roundup® weedkiller.

Madison County, Illinois remains the most active asbestos docket in the United States. Through the first half of 2020, 32.2% of new asbestos cases were filed in Madison County and nearby St. Clair County, Illinois, was a close second and Cook County, Illinois, ranked the eighth highest jurisdiction in the U.S. for asbestos cases.

Additionally notable in 2020 was the rise in climate change litigation brought by activist state attorney generals like Minnesota’s Keith Ellison. In June 2020, Attorney General Ellison brought a lawsuit against several oil companies claiming they misled Minnesotans about climate change. The lawsuits were brought under a variety of statutes, including those addressing consumer fraud, deceptive trade practices, and false advertising. Attorney generals in New York, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts have filed similar lawsuits.

Observers of litigation trends will continue to monitor developments throughout 2021 to track developments in U.S. Judicial Hellholes offering predictions as to any changes to the next American Tort Reform Foundation Report.