By: David Yates
AUSTIN – For the past two years, two of Texas’ more litigious venues caught the attention of the American Tort Reform Association -- Hidalgo County, arguably the birthplace of mass hailstorm litigation, and the Eastern District of Texas, a hot spot for patent infringement cases.
On Dec. 5, ATRA released its latest “Judicial Hellholes Report,” – a ranking of states and venues that the group sees as the nation’s most unfair handlers of civil litigation.
Neither Hidalgo County, which has made the list twice in as many years, or the Eastern District earned a spot on ATRA’s list this year.
In fact, the 2017 report lists a tort reform measure aimed at ending storm lawsuit abuse as a Point of Light.
According to Texans for Lawsuit Reform, preliminary analysis of lawsuit filings shows an 84 percent reduction in weather-related lawsuits since House Bill 1774 took effect in September.
“The Legislature put Texas consumers first by passing House Bill 1774 to shut down lawsuit abuse that was making property insurance more expensive and less accessible for Texans,” said Lucy Nashed, TLR’s communications director.
“For over two decades, Texas has fought back against personal injury trial lawyers and their job-killing agenda, passing common-sense reforms … this commitment has made Texas a national example for smart reforms.”
While Texas can now be seen as a beacon for tort reform, the state is no stranger to ATRA’s list, with state courts and communities appearing 17 times in 16 years in the annual report.
“That’s why we’ll remain vigilant in defending existing reforms,” said Roger Borgelt, chairman of Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse of Central Texas.
“Hailstorm lawsuit reform was a focal point for our education and advocacy this year. It’s heartening to see this landmark legislation – cracking down on fraudulent storm litigation – included among the ‘points of light’ in this year’s Judicial Hellholes report.”
Two years ago, the report named the Eastern District of Texas among the nation’s worst judicial hellholes.
ATRA says the federal district drew patent plaintiffs from across the nation because of a “rocket docket” of expedited trials, general unwillingness to dismiss cases, a high plaintiff-win rate and larger-than-average awards for damages.
“In May 2017, however, the Supreme Court unanimously ended the ED Texas’s reign as the nation’s busiest patent infringement court,” the report states.
“The high court’s ruling in TC Heartland LLC v. Kraft Foods Group Brands LLC generally requires patent-holding plaintiffs to bring lawsuits only where an allegedly infringing defendant is incorporated, or where there has been an act of infringement and the defendant has a regular and established place of business.
“Already the ruling is having an impact. Patent cases formerly concentrated in the ED Texas are shifting to Delaware, where many businesses are incorporated, and other states that have real connections to claims.”
In 2016, 1,647 patent infringement cases were filed in the Eastern District while Delaware’s federal court hosted just 455.
“In the weeks immediately following TC Heartland, these two courts experienced a ‘complete flip’ in the volume of cases,” the report states. “Attorneys expect cases to be treated more evenhandedly in Delaware, where federal judges are described as “no-nonsense.”
ATRA is a nonprofit organization that works to educate the public about the civil justice system and tort law. It has compiled the Judicial Hellholes report since 2002.