What Exactly Is A “Judicial Hellhole?”

The American Tort Reform Association has just released the latest geographical area to earn the title of “Judicial Hellhole.” Past “winners” of this award include South Florida, the entire state of West Virginia, the Gulf Coast of Texas, and the Illinois counties of Madison and St. Clair. The latest area to receive this dubious distinction is Cook County, Illinois, which encompasses the city of Chicago.

According to the ATRA, there are many factors that can contribute to an area being labeled as a “hellhole,” but the main causes are the decisions and discretion of the judges that preside over the cases. The ATRA also takes issue with what they call “excessive punitive damages” and “junk science.”

The American Tort Reform Association is a group that is almost completely funded by huge industrial concerns and insurance companies, which all have a financial stake in keeping their liability to a minimum. They have a well-oiled Public Relations machine that does its best to imply that the majority of lawsuits are simply frivolous money making schemes as opposed to actual people seeking compensation for actual damages. Their website pays lip service to keeping the judicial system “fair,” yet the only examples of court cases and lawsuits that are listed on the site are those that are obviously frivolous and utterly ridiculous, and those that no reputable attorney would associate with. They also do an admirable job of manufacturing crises, such as “The Medical Malpractice Crisis,” or “The Litigation Explosion.”

Contrary to what the ATRA would have you believe, reputable and honest attorneys (which is to say the great majority of us) don’t like these frivolous cases either. They waste time and keep real cases from being heard. But they are most certainly NOT the majority of personal injury cases.

Most personal injury cases involve everyday hardworking citizens that have been injured emotionally, physically or financially by the actions of insurance companies, manufacturers or pharmaceutical companies. Many of the cases involving insurance companies could have been avoided had the insurers simply lived up to their obligations. For instance, a judge in Indiana recently punished Allstate for making it company policy to only pay 52 cents on the dollar for every claim. Would the courts be clogged up with people looking for help if Allstate had just offered them fair claim adjustments? Certainly not. And what of these “ridiculous and excessive” cases involving dangerous pharmaceutical drugs? Can a judgment be called “frivolous” if warnings are ignored and facts are buried and people end up dead, as was the case with Vioxx?

The truth is that the numbers do not bear out the ATRA’s contention that the sky is somehow falling because of lawsuits. In fact, if anything has been clogging up the courts over the past decade or two it has been the contract disputes of the same multi-national conglomerates that are complaining about “frivolous lawsuits.” According to the National Center for State Courts, tort case filings between the years of 1993 and 2002 dropped by 5%, but filings over contracts over that same period were up by 21%. So is it “frivolous lawsuits” by average citizens that are taking up the valuable time of our judges, or is it warring CEO’s bickering about a few million dollar percentage points?

The “excessive punitive damages” argument doesn’t hold much water either. Statistics provided by the Department of Justice show that the average punitive or compensatory damage award is $55,000. More than half of the plaintiffs that win their cases end up with that amount. Only 18% of winning plaintiffs receive $250,000, and the million dollar punitive awards that the ATRA decry as rampant and epidemic only happen 7% of the time.

Charles Boyk has been through enough tort cases to know that for the most part, the only defense that the insurers or pharmaceutical companies have is to drag the names of their accusers through the mud. They paint them as shifty or greedy or somehow immoral for looking for justice or decent treatment. They do it to them individually in the courtroom, and they do it en masse through groups like the American Tort Reform Association. Quite often, people who fight for fair treatment often find themselves defending their reputations. Charles Boyk has the experience and knowledge of the law to keep the focus of the case on what is important.

If you or a loved one has been injured through no fault of your own, and you feel that your needs are not being taken seriously, contact our offices for a free legal consultation.

Charles E. Boyk Law Offices, LLC