Pennsylvania’s Litigation Climate Impacts Everyone!
This year, Pennsylvanians can significantly impact the Commonwealth’s legislative and executive branches. On the ballot this year will be candidates for governor, 203 members of the state House, and half of the Senate (25 members). These positions carry a tremendous responsibility. Legislators are charged with setting public policy through enacting laws that impact every Pennsylvanian, particularly in the areas of liability and civil justice. Governors, meanwhile, can veto or sign bills into law and also exert their influence via the regulatory process and by executive order.
Elections have consequences. For too long, Pennsylvania’s elected officials have enacted laws and pursued policies that have had a detrimental effect on the Commonwealth’s civil justice climate. The state’s overly litigious legal environment increases the burden on taxpayers and serves as a red flag to businesses that are looking to invest. The time to chart a new direction starts now. In this election cycle, it is critical that voters support candidates that are in favor of right-sizing Pennsylvania’s legal climate. PCCJR’s Voter Guide was developed to be a helpful resource for voters by giving an overview of the negative impact the Commonwealth’s civil justice system has on taxpayers and job creators, as well as the philosophies of the candidates on the ballot.
Elections Directly Impact Your Chance of Getting Sued
Pennsylvania needs a governor who will sign into law much-needed legislation to reform our civil justice system.
Pennsylvania ranks 39th in the nation for its litigation climate according to a survey by the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform (ILR). Many people don’t realize how much the litigation climate impacts our everyday lives. The jobs we count on, the healthcare we receive, and the overall well-being of our communities are all impacted by the laws governing civil litigation. When state leaders cozy up to plaintiffs’ attorneys, there are serious costs for everyone. It is important that our legislators and governor enact laws that establish a reasonable litigation climate and reverse the impact of judicial decisions that tilt the scales of justice unfairly in favor of plaintiffs’ attorneys.
Frivolous Lawsuits Have Serious Costs
According to another study by ILR, the total cost of the “tort” or personal injury side of the court system in the United States is $429 billion, representing 2.3% of the gross national product. Pennsylvania’s civil tort system equates to $18.374 billion or 2.5% of the state’s gross domestic product. A full 44% of the cost of PA’s civil justice system is attributable to lawyers’ fees and other expenses, leaving injured people to recover only the remaining 56%. In fact, the cost of Pennsylvania’s civil court system amounts to $3,721.00 per household! That places our state just below the top 10 for the highest tort costs per household in the nation. The cost of the civil court system is essentially an extra “tort tax” paid by every household in the state to prop up the inefficient delivery of civil justice.
Jobs are at Stake
As sobering as those figures are, the American Tort Reform Association (ATRA) placed Philadelphia and the Pennsylvania Supreme Court near the top of its rankings of Judicial Hellholes for 2021! The legal climate is a key economic factor in business location and expansion decisions. Being considered a “Judicial Hellhole” gives job creators another reason to invest elsewhere, resulting in fewer jobs for Pennsylvanians.
Health Care is Under Attack
Health care providers are also under constant attack in Pennsylvania’s courts. Pennsylvania has not passed medical malpractice reform since the 2002 MCARE Act (Medical Care Availability and Reduction of Error Fund). Today, the protections from that act governing where lawsuits may be filed in medical liability cases are a target of the plaintiffs’ attorneys seeking more ways to sue in Philadelphia. Should they get their way, more lawsuits would be filed in Philadelphia for the sole purpose of bigger verdicts. Large, mega verdicts drive up the cost of your healthcare! As court decisions continue to erode medical malpractice protections passed in the early 2000s, we need legislators willing to address litigation reform to ensure continued availability of health care services.
Pandemic Heroes Need Protection
The global COVID-19 pandemic brings the threat of lawsuits into sharp focus. Plaintiffs’ attorneys seek to blame businesses for the exposure and spread of COVID-19. While health care workers care for the sick and businesses seek to meet the need for personal protective equipment and other essential products and services, opportunistic lawyers are looking to make a quick buck off the suffering. Doctors, hospitals, long-term care facilities, and others in health care, need safe harbor liability protection from lawsuits resulting from the delivery of care during this unprecedented time. Those who have retooled their businesses to meet the demand for personal protection equipment deserve to be protected from lawsuits in support of their efforts. Employers must be protected from speculative claims of COVID-19 exposure in their places of business if Pennsylvania’s economy is to fully recover.
Court Decisions Inject Unfairness. Governor and Legislature Must Respond
Recent court decisions have eroded Pennsylvania’s Fair Share Act. Signed into law in 2011, the Fair Share Act ensures that a defendant only pays for the percentage of a verdict in relation to their fault. No longer can a minimally liable defendant be required to pay the entire verdict. Several recent court decisions have eroded the protections afforded under the Fair Share Act to those who are sued. The next Governor and legislature must act to restore the original legislative intent of the Fair Share Act.
What Should We Look for in a Gubernatorial Candidate?
The last eight years have been challenging for those concerned about lawsuit abuse and fairness in our civil court system. Gov. Tom Wolf vetoed several bills which would have provided needed protections for those subjected to lawsuits. Most notably, he vetoed COVID-19 related liability protections contained in HB 1737. Pennsylvania’s next governor must recognize the need to reform our litigation system and end the crushing burden on businesses, health care, and families caused by frivolous lawsuits.
The Pennsylvania Coalition for Civil Justice Reform (PCCJR) considers several factors when reviewing the positions and qualifications of candidates. Above all, our members want leaders who will enact laws that are fair, reasonable, and balanced. Job creators and Pennsylvania’s economy are damaged by policies that expand concepts of liability in ways that are unwarranted and lead to unexpected consequences. Laws that recognize the need for consistency in our courts, predictability in legal outcomes, and an understanding that a certain amount of risk is inherent in any human activity will set the right climate for job growth, opportunity, and preservation of medical care. Gubernatorial and legislative candidates should support laws that encourage restraint to prevent run-a-way liability costs and bring about the stability needed to protect job opportunities and access to healthcare. We believe a candidate who values common sense and personal responsibility will make a good governor.
Candidate Questionnaire Responses
The PCCJR sent candidate questionnaires to all candidates running for Governor. Because of the volume of gubernatorial candidates this year, we thought it important to seek responses from all candidates running in the primary. Those who responded, and the links to their responses, are found below.
|Lou Barletta (R), Response [PDF]|
|Jake Corman (R), No Response Received|
|Joe Gale (R), No Response Received|
|Charlie Gerow (R), Response [PDF]|
|Melissa Hart (R), Response [PDF]|
|Doug Mastriano (R) No Response Received|
|Bill McSwain (R), Response [PDF]|
|Josh Shapiro (D), No Response Received|
|Dave White (R), Response [PDF]|
|Nche Zama (R), Response [PDF]|