By Lou Ann Anderson | Watchdog Arena
A new national ranking suggests generally improved views of state legal climates, yet the Lone Star State’s litigation environment doesn’t fare so well.
For its 2015 Lawsuit Climate Survey: Ranking the States, the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform commissioned the Harris Poll to examine the levels of fairness and reasonability with which U.S. businesses perceive their states’ tort liability systems.
Texas was ranked #40, down from #36 in the last two surveys (2012 and 2010). Delaware took the top position followed by Vermont, Nebraska, Iowa and New Hampshire. West Virginia was #50 with Alabama, California, Illinois and Louisiana rounding out the bottom tier.
East Texas was most frequently cited (26 percent) when respondents were asked about problematic cities/counties for contract and tort litigation actions. Other “worst jurisdictions” included Chicago or Cook County, Illinois (20 percent); Los Angeles, California (16 percent); Madison County, Illinois (16 percent); and New Orleans or Orleans Parish, Louisiana (15 percent).
“This survey, and our drop in the ranking, is a clear reminder that when it comes to a legal reform, our work in Texas is never done and our successes in the Legislature cannot be taken for granted,” Jennifer Harris, spokesperson with Texans Against Lawsuit Abuse, said of the ranking. “Beyond the State Capitol, judges and juries are the lifeblood of our civil justice system and their actions, and perceived level of competency, impact our litigation climate on a daily basis.”
“Even with the passage of some key reforms in 2015, this is a wake up call for Texas,” Harris said. “We are seeing outsized verdicts in some jurisdictions and we have suffered the effects of aggressive and entrepreneurial personal injury lawyers who turn litigation into a cottage industry that can impact the entire state. The excessive rise in litigation related to two hailstorms in Texas is a perfect example of how quickly a new rash of lawsuits, from enterprising personal injury lawyers, can take hold of the state.”
This tenth installment of the survey found higher overall state scores as well as general improvement in litigation environment perceptions, with half of the respondents characterizing state court liability systems as excellent or pretty good. That said, the other half believe state systems are only fair or poor.
A finding that stood out as significant was 75 percent of respondents citing a state’s litigation environment as “likely to impact important business decisions at their companies, such as where to locate or do business.”
Individual state evaluations highlighted a wide disparity among states with the best and worst performances, as Delaware scored 77 out of a possible 100 while West Virginia scored 46 out of 100. West Virginia’s score, however, is up one point from the 2012 survey results and 11 points from 2010.
More than 1,200 in-house general counsel, senior litigators or attorneys and other senior executives at companies having at least $100 million in annual revenues participated based on their having both knowledge about litigation matters and recent litigation experience in each state they evaluated.
The survey addressed the existence and enforcement of meaningful venue requirements, overall treatment of tort and contract litigation, treatment of class action suits and mass consolidation suits, damages, timeliness of summary judgment or dismissal, discovery, scientific and technical evidence along with judges’ impartiality/competence and juries’ fairness
While seeking to determine states’ general legal climates, the survey notes the possibility of states receiving low grades due to the “negative reputation of one or more of their counties or jurisdictions.”
“This survey reveals that three in four senior lawyers and executives feel that the litigation environment in a state is likely to impact important business decisions, which could have economic consequences for the states,” the survey concludes. “The challenge for the states is to focus on those areas where they received the lowest scores and then make improvements where they are needed.”
This article was written by a contributor of Watchdog Arena, Franklin Center’s network of writers, bloggers, and citizen journalists.