TALLAHASSEE — Despite improvements last year, Florida's "most unfair" court system in civil litigation helped the Sunshine State beat out California to take the top spot in American Tort Reform Foundation's (ATRF) latest list of "judicial hellholes," the organization said in its latest annual report.
"This year, thanks to a state high court majority’s barely contained contempt for the policy-making authority of the legislative and executive branches of government, and a notoriously aggressive and sometimes lawless plaintiffs' bar, Florida earns the ignominious No. 1 ranking among eight Judicial Hellholes, even as authorities have begun to crack down on some of the lawsuit industry’s most obviously fraudulent rackets," ATRF President Tiger Joyce was quoted as saying in a press release.
ATRF's 2017-18 "judicial hellholes" report, issued earlier this month, also blamed in part Florida's "aggressive personal injury bar's fraudulent and abusive practices in South Florida and elsewhere have also tarnished the state’s reputation" and helped achieve the top rank, the press release said.
"Encouragingly, at least some plaintiffs' lawyers who've crossed the line are being held accountable, either with stiff court sanctions or criminal prosecutions. But with the help of some lawmakers, too many are still getting away with too much, and for the first time in this report’s 16-year history, enough shade has been cast on the Sunshine State to rank it as the nation's worst Judicial Hellhole."
ATRF's latest ranking for Florida was quite a drop from last year, when the state dropped from No. 3 to fourth position in the association's 2016-17 Judicial Hellholes list issued at about the same time last year. In that report, St. Louis, Missouri ranked No. 1, compared to No. 3 in this year's report; and California was No. 2, a ranking that state maintained this year.
Much of Florida's No. 1 ranking as the top Judicial Hellhole this year was chalked up in ATRF's report to difficulties between the state Supreme Court and lawmakers in Tallahassee, difficulties that were a factor in previous rankings. "The Florida Supreme Court’s liability expanding decisions and barely contained contempt for the lawmaking authority of legislators and the governor has repeatedly led to its inclusion in this report," the latest report said.
"And though the high court’s plaintiff-friendly majority this year shrunk from 5-2 to 4-3, a hushed discussion between two majority justices recently caught by an open microphone suggests that this majority is as partisan as ever and brazenly determined to influence the judicial selection process as three like-minded colleagues face mandatory retirement in early 2019."
ATRF, headquartered in Washington, has issued its annual "Judicial Hellholes" report since its first one in 2002. ATRF "is the only national organization dedicated exclusively to tort and liability reform through public education and the enactment of legislation," according to the preamble of the executive summary of this year's report.
"(The American Tort Reform Association) members include nonprofit organizations and small and large companies, as well as trade, business and professional associations from the state and national level. The American Tort Reform Foundation is a sister organization dedicated primarily to research and public education."