The Institute for Legal Reform’s seventh annual ranking of the 50 state lawsuit systems is out. Each year, the immediate curiosity is always, “who’s on top? Who’s at the bottom?” For the record, Delaware is again number one, although by the slimmest of margins. For the third year running, West Virginia is number fifty, though showing some signs of improvement.
The more interesting questions are ones that get to the heart of why we continue to do this study each year: Why do certain states rank where they do? And how can a state create a good legal climate?
One thing I can say for sure after seven years is that a legal climate is never the result of a single event, law, ruling, judge, or verdict. All of these things are critical to creating a good – or bad – legal climate.
Since we began our state ranking in 2002, several states have enacted “tort reform” of various types and to varying degrees of success. The truth is, enacting legal reforms is only the first step. The legal climate is only as good as the willingness of the state’s judiciary to interpret the reforms and to follow them as enacted.
Texas passed comprehensive legal reform several years ago, but judges in parts of the state refuse to follow these reforms, continuing to cultivate very unfair jurisdictions.
Beyond the notion that the courts and the legislature both share in creating the legal climate, the civil justice systems of competing states are having an increasing effect on each other. For example, when Texas cleaned up its asbestos class action cases, the Texas plaintiffs’ lawyers began looking for other states in which to file their claims. So far they seem to be settling on California, where class judges are much more plaintiff-friendly.
Delaware is now discussing what to do about a rise in cases coming from, among other places, the jackpot jurisdiction of Madison County, Illinois.
Lisa A. Rickard serves as president of the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform (ILR), where she provides strategic leadership to ILR's comprehensive program aimed at changing the legal culture that has resulted in our nation's litigation explosion.