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Georgia Tops the ATRA’s “Judicial Hellholes” Report for the Second Year Running

» Posted December 14, 2023John D. BlairArticles

John David Blair, Partner

Levy, Sibley, Foreman & Speir, LLC


The American Tort Reform Association (“ATRA”), a Washington D.C.-based nonprofit organization, has published its 2023-24 “Judicial Hellholes” report with Georgia positioned at the top, tied with the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania and the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas (Georgia held the title alone in the ATRA’s last, 2022-23 report). The ARTA notes here that, “Since its inception in 2002, the American Tort Reform Foundation’s Judicial Hellholes® program has documented in annually published reports various abuses within the civil justice system, focusing primarily on jurisdictions where courts have been radically out of balance [i.e., ‘Hellholes’].” In all that time, this is the first year in which ATRA has awarded the top position in a tie to two jurisdictions, one of which is Georgia. Interestingly, though, Georgia’s courts statewide share this “distinction” with only two of Pennsylvania’s courts: the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas and the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania. 


You can see the executive summary here. ATRA explains its reasoning for placing Georgia (statewide) in the top position, taking aim at both the judiciary and legislature as follows: “…2023 brought about more of the same for the Peach State. Courts across the state continue to award nuclear verdicts [and referencing a Gwinnett County punitive damages verdict of $1.7 billion], and the Georgia Supreme Court issued a disappointing premises liability decision [Georgia CVS Pharmacy, LLC v. Carmichael, 316 Ga. 718, 890 S.E.2d 209 (2023)] and other liability-expanding decisions that will only make a terrible environment worse. In addition, Georgia continues to embrace an archaic seatbelt gag rule that precludes a jury from hearing evidence about whether an occupant wore a seatbelt at the time of a crash, and third-party litigation financing provides the resources to drive the litigation machine… In recent years, neither the judiciary nor the legislative branches have been willing to take responsibility for the state’s poor civil justice system. The judicial branch blames the legislature for enacting bad laws while ignoring the damage it continues to do by permitting frivolous claims to be heard and expanding liability like it has done in a litany of premises cases. While the Georgia General Assembly has enacted moderate reforms in years past, several much-needed reforms have failed to move.” When asked for comment by the Daily Report (www.law.com/dailyreportonline), Georgia Supreme Court’s spokeswoman, Kathleen Joyner, said the Court has “no comment.”


By contrast, the ATRA allowed that, “Governor Brian Kemp demonstrated important leadership by recently acknowledging the need for ‘an even playing field in Georgia courts and has positioned civil justice reform as a top priority for his administration in 2024, which has not been done in nearly 20 years. All eyes will be on Georgia in 2024 to see if it’s finally the year for much-needed change.” Unfortunately, representatives from the Georgia Defense Lawyers Association (“GDLA”) continue to report that the plaintiffs’ bar in Georgia routinely outspends the tort reform lobby. This places proponents of tort reform (like the GDLA and ATRA) at a distinct disadvantage when trying to push for legislative changes that would, hopefully, allow Georgia to get itself off the Hellholes list or, at the very least, out of the top spot.