New York Manages to Remain a “Judicial Hellhole” in 2021

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While trials and in person court conferences are starting to trickle in, some jurisdictions such as New York still managed to hold its position as a judicial hellhole in 2021. According to American Tort Reform Foundation 2021-22 Judicial Hellholes, California regained its position to the top of the judicial hellhole list. Following California, New York was named as the second judicial hellhole. Georgia, Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas and the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania followed. Cook, Madison, and St. Clair Counties in Illinois; Louisiana; St. Louis, Missouri; and South Carolina, fill out the final four positions, respectively.

South Carolina is new to the judicial hellhole list where the state’s consolidated docket for the asbestos litigation docket has developed a reputation for discovery abuse, unwarranted sanctions, low evidentiary requirements, and multi-million-dollar verdicts. New York remains a preferred jurisdiction for asbestos litigation with the concern regarding over-naming of defendants. According to a recent study that reviewed 488 New York Asbestos Litigation (NYCAL) case filings from 2015-2020, the average number of named defendants in a single case is 30-40. One case filed in 2020 named 106 defendants. Of the 540 defendants named in the sample, 249 companies were dismissed from 100% of the cases in which they were named, while over 400 companies were dismissed from more than 50%. According to the Judicial Hellhole Report, while Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas & Supreme Court of Pennsylvania dropped from its No. 1 spot from last year, it is not due to reforms or progress made in the state. Rather, it is due to the number of issues plaguing California, New York, and Georgia. Furthermore, shutdowns resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic led to a decrease in activity. Philadelphia remains in the Top 4 most popular jurisdictions to file lawsuits claiming injuries from exposure to asbestos. Over in St. Louis, a preferred jurisdiction for the plaintiffs’ bar, it is once again was in the Top-10 for the most asbestos cases filed overall and lung cancer filings were up 74%. It will be interesting to see how COVID-19 continues to play a part in all aspects of  litigation, including asbestos litigation.

In New York, asbestos trials are starting to be scheduled and Philip Goldstein has assumed the role of Special Master in NYCAL since January 2022. He has replaced Shelley Olsen who was the special master since 2013. Mr. Goldstein obtained his undergraduate degree in 1984 from Brandeis University. He graduated from Boston University School of Law in 1987.  Prior to his time serving as a mediator and arbitrator beginning in 2018, he was a partner at McGuire Woods LLP for over 14 years where he focused his practice on a variety of areas of law including, but not limited to, business/commercial litigation, asbestos litigation, and mass tort litigation. Interestingly,  Mr. Goldstein has conducted over 100 Zoom meditations from 2020 to 2022. During the first few months as special master, Goldstein has been actively involved in litigation. He has continued the same pace and schedule that Shelley Olsen instituted. Regular trial readiness conferences have been held with the intention of advancing cases toward trials. He has also expressed an interest in being involved with settlement negotiations between plaintiffs and defendants. We anticipate he will continue to develop and progress the active NYCAL docket in light of the backlog in NYCAL due to the current circumstances. Furthermore, it will be interesting to note which jurisdictions remain on the judicial hellhole list including New York in the upcoming year as we see a change in the way courts operate, especially regarding jury trials.