By Peter N. Calcara, vice president - government relations
Pennsylvania’s civil justice system is not typically a front-burner issue for the PICPA or most of our 22,000 members—unless they are caught in the crosshairs of a lawsuit. That said, sometimes it is good to remind members that the PICPA is an advocate for a fair and equitable legal system for individuals and businesses. In fact, the PICPA was a champion for the passage of the Pennsylvania Fair Share Act in 2011, which changed the state’s joint and several liability law and restored some balance to our legal system.
But the reality is the Fair Share Act was one fix in a system that needs many fixes. Concerns about Pennsylvania’s legal system have been raised nationally. The state’s legal climate was ranked below 36 other states by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Institute for Legal Reform. In addition, The American Tort Reform Association recently cited the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas, and Allegheny County courts as being on its Judicial Hellhole Watch List. Areas of Pennsylvania law that have been met with criticism include the treatment of mass torts, discovery abuse, evidentiary procedures, excessive awards, unpredictability, forum shopping, and improprieties in state contracting with private attorneys, among others.
The types of legislative reforms needed to move Pennsylvania’s legal system in the right direction – and in turn improve our economic climate – do not come easily. Tort reform, as it is sometimes known, has been an issue for most of my 30 years in Harrisburg, and there is a reason for that. Trial attorneys and their organizations are a formidable legislative and political force that is singularly focused. For many years, Pennsylvania lawmakers – both Democrats and Republicans – have been reluctant to take on this interest group.
The business community, while generally supportive of legal reform, has been inconsistent in its efforts to pass legislation. The business community is fractured and finds it hard to coalesce around specific bills or proposals. Manufacturers have a different agenda than retailers, who have a different agenda than insurance companies and doctors and hospitals.
That’s about to change.
Earlier this year, a diverse group of organizations and individuals created a new civil-justice-focused advocacy organization. The Pennsylvania Coalition for Civil Justice Reform (PCCJR) will work to educate Pennsylvanians about problems in the legal system and advocate for reforms that bring fairness to the state’s courts.
The PICPA is a part of this group, which also includes the Hospital and Healthsystem Association of Pennsylvania, National Federation of Independent Business, Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry, Pennsylvania Medical Society, Pennsylvania Healthcare Association, Pennsylvania Manufacturers Association, and the Insurance Federation of Pennsylvania. We have joined with these other stakeholders to improve our civil justice system by elevating awareness of key challenges, advocating for legal reform in the legislature, and ensuring fairness in the courts.
The executive director of PCCJR is Curt Schroder, a former state legislator and an attorney familiar with civil litigation. Schroder observes, “Creating more even-handed laws and courts will benefit all Pennsylvanians by attracting jobs and helping ensure access to health care, while at the same time delivering justice to those who have been harmed by others.”
The Pennsylvania civil justice system– with its lack of balance in laws, legal precedents, and courtrooms –creates a hostile environment for conducting business, providing health care, and growing the job base.
There is a need for an organization that focuses exclusively on legal reform and provides a voice for those who are concerned about the problem of lawsuit abuse in Pennsylvania. The coalition will work hand-in-hand with other advocates for civil justice fairness to ensure our elected officials understand the extent of the problems and the importance of acting now to address them.
Pennsylvania needs a civil justice system that is balanced and fair to all parties; applies the laws evenly based on the facts; provides access to justice for those truly injured; and discourages abusive litigation.
PICPA, through the PCCJR, is ready to play a meaningful part in this debate.