Further Empirical Evidence on Forum Shopping in Philadelphia Civil Courts

Josh Wright —  6 February 2012

Late last year, with support from the International Center for Law and Economics, I published a paper that empirically analyzed the Philadelphia civil court system. That study focused upon the Philadelphia Complex Litigation Center (PCLC) which handles large mass tort programs including asbestos cases, hormone therapy replacement cases, various prescription drug-related injuries, and other mass tort programs. The PCLC has recently come under criticism for the use of a number of controversial procedures including the consolidation of asbestos cases and the use of reverse-bifurcation methods, where a plaintiff’s damages are calculated prior to the establishment of liability. That paper considered publicly available data from the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts to analyze trends in docketed and pending civil cases in Philadelphia compared to other non-Philadelphia Pennsylvania counties, cases in federal court, and a national sample of state courts.

The study highlighted some unusual trends.  Philadelphia case dockets are disproportionately larger relative to both its population and other state and federal courts.  Philadelphia plaintiffs are also relatively more likely to prefer jury trials and less likely to settle than other non-Philadelphia Pennsylvania plaintiffs.  The data appear to support the conclusion that Philadelphia courts demonstrate a meaningful preference for plaintiffs, by coaxing “business” from other courts and providing them with a unique combination of advantages; indeed, the PCLC’s own stated goals include a desire to “[take] business away from other courts.”   While these strategies have no doubt successfully increased litigation in Philadelphia, and benefit local Philadelphia attorneys, they also bring a substantial cost to Philadelphia businesses and consumers.

I’ve now conducted a preliminary supplemental analysis (available here) designed to test the proposition that the majority of plaintiffs in the PCLC are out-of-state without an apparent or substantive connection to either Philadelphia or even the State of Pennsylvania.  I considered a sample of about 1,400 of the mass-tort cases in the PCLC to determine if the plaintiff filing the case had a home address or had sustained the complained of injury either in Philadelphia or Pennsylvania. Although the findings are preliminary, the results indicate that a substantial fraction of plaintiffs with cases pending at the PCLC have no discernible or relevant connection to Philadelphia or Pennsylvania. This supplement to the original study provides strong evidence that the PCLC has succeeded in attracting a large number of out-of-state cases that comprise a substantial portion of the civil cases in Philadelphia.

The main conclusions of this supplemental analysis are as follows:

  • Of the 1,357 cases in the sample, 913 (67.2%) were brought by plaintiffs who live out-of-state without any apparent connection to Pennsylvania or Philadelphia.
  • Only 180 cases (13.3%) reveal plaintiffs who live in or allege injury in Philadelphia.
  • The most substantial case types where the plaintiffs were overwhelmingly out-of-state are hormone therapy, denture adhesive cream, and Paxil birth defect cases.
  • Although most or all of the companies involved in these cases do business in Philadelphia and a few have some sort of administrative offices there, the vast majority of defendants do not have their principal place of business in Philadelphia or even in Pennsylvania. It is unlikely that venue was moved to the PCLC in most or any of the cases.

A chart summarizing the results is available here at Table 1.

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  1. Venue Shopping in Philadelphia? « Swartz Campbell Professional Liability Blog - February 20, 2012

    […] of Research, International Center for Law & Economics, authored a study last year (which was updated earlier this month), which found that a large percentage of cases in Philadelphia had very little connection with […]