The State of Litigation in PA

Tort lawsuits are those you hear about the most: party A did something wrong to party B, and now party B wants a large sum of money. The Wall Street Journal recently published a piece that suggested these lawsuits are set to dwindle in number, but guess what: that’s nonsense. The WSJ made the claim based on a recent data point that suggested cases have already gone down since 1933. Okay, fair enough, maybe they have. But we’re not so sure, and we’re closing in on nearly a century’s worth of time since then. Perception of what constitutes “big” is based on the here and now–not 1933.

Another data point suggests that tort lawsuits have plummeted over just the past few decades. While tort lawsuits amounted to sixteen percent of the overall lawsuit pie in 1993, they amount to only about five percent of it now. That’s a pretty steep decline, so what gives? Well, first off, it’s important to note that not everyone agrees with the data in question.

The President of the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform, Lisa Rickard, said that part of this transition to a lower number of tort lawsuits was due to a change in the way lawsuits are being lodged. That is to say, lawsuits that were once made by just one plaintiff are now being joined by a group. But those numbers aren’t compared in the provided data points, making them basically irrelevant. The overall trend is anything else but transparent.

Mark Behrens, who operates out of the law firm Shook, agrees that conclusions have been drawn far too prematurely.

National trends don’t necessarily matter when you consider what’s going on in just Pennsylvania, so what’s happening here? Well, to put it plainly, the news isn’t good (depending on what side of the law you fall upon): for every 100,000 Pennsylvania residents, there are about 274 tort cases lodged. This is a big step above the national average, and so is the overall number of cases in the realm of civil court. Tort cases in 2015 accounted for nearly eight percent of everything.

This could be a big problem for people who rely on fair law to do business. Entrepreneurs are often subject to frivolous tort lawsuits, and society at large relies on these business-savvy participants to provide more jobs. More lawsuits mean fewer jobs, fewer jobs mean a more sluggish economy, and so Pennsylvania legislators are busy searching for a meaningful solution.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court might ease the burden with case limitations that prevent cases being filed from other jurisdictions, and other laws are popping up out of state that do the same thing. This could provide relief for Philadelphia courts, which are routinely busy throughout the year. Either way, something must be done fast.