Around the country, California may be known as home to Hollywood stars and the mighty Redwoods, but lawyers know California for what it really is – the trial bar’s laboratory.
Trial lawyers develop novel legal theories in the Golden State to expand liability and test litigation tactics on plaintiff-friendly judges. Once they find success in the west, they fine-tune their methods, then spread their newfound schemes across the country.
In the 20th edition of the American Tort Reform Foundation’s Judicial Hellholes report, California was named the worst Judicial Hellhole in the country. The annual report was released this month and calls out California’s civil justice system as ground zero for innovative liability expansion and lawsuit abuse.
One tactic California trial lawyers finessed is the use of questionable scientific evidence in trials, sometimes called “junk science.” Now, the state’s junk science may soon go before the U.S. Supreme Court due to an outlier study used to pin Monsanto’s Roundup weedkiller as carcinogenic.
Major environmental regulators long have agreed that the essential crop-protection product does not cause cancer. European Union regulators repeatedly certify its safety, along with our own U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
But in 2015, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a small agency of the World Health Organization, labeled glyphosate a “probable carcinogen.” It later emerged that IARC dismissed evidence of glyphosate’s safety but amplified and mischaracterized other data to suggest conclusions no other rigorous study found. This, unfortunately, was unsurprising, given IARC was advised by an “invited specialist” – a paid expert for a plaintiffs’ firm involved in glyphosate litigation.
The U.S. Supreme Court must take this opportunity to rein in California’s lax rules on junk science and stop the trial bar’s liability-expanding agenda from permeating courthouses nationwide. Similar litigation is already teed up in fellow Judicial Hellhole, St. Louis. The Supreme Court can provide guidelines on consistent, nationwide evidentiary standards under the Daubert standard for expert evidence– which is especially crucial in major litigation.
Lawsuits targeting industries tied to public health and food supply chains can have a truly chilling effect not only on research and development but on the availability of products we use and need every day. If we continue down this path of lawsuit abuse, we’ll see more critical industries move production abroad, while the availability of new medicines and critical products decreases in the U.S.
Across the country, lawsuit abuse results in more than $160 billion in excessive tort costs annually, meaning every American pays nearly $500 each year in a “tort tax.” Further, tort costs affect more than 2.2 million jobs, causing an estimated loss of $143.8 million in wages.
California courts’ tolerance for junk science is just the tip of the iceberg, though. The state’s penchant for exercising jurisdiction over out-of-state businesses landed it before the Supreme Court just a few years ago when SCOTUS overturned the California Supreme Court’s decision in Bristol-Myers Squibb. The U.S. Supreme Court made it clear that state courts have no jurisdiction over out-of-state defendants being sued by out-of-state plaintiffs for alleged injuries that occurred outside of California.
Despite this ruling, courts in fellow Judicial Hellholes, including Pennsylvania and Missouri, follow the liability-expanding lead of California and open their doors to plaintiffs from all over the country, showing how dangerous California’s example can be.
California courts even target small businesses by allowing abusive lawsuits under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). These alleged violations are often as minor as a mirror placed an inch too high. The state has the most federal ADA filings, and pricier penalties due to the state’s Unruh Civil Rights Act, which imposes a $4,000 fine per violation. Making matters worse for small businesses, website accessibility lawsuits increased more than 2,000 percent over a two-year span in California.
While the Supreme Court has an important opportunity to rein in lawsuit abuse in Monsanto v. Hardeman, judges and legislators in California and across the country cannot rely solely on federal courts to rein in lawsuit abuse at the state level. The U.S. Supreme Court hears only a small fraction of cases presented to it each year, making it unrealistic to expect the country’s high court to solve every problem.
It’s up to state lawmakers and courts to rebalance the playing fields and foster civil justice systems that treat all parties equally. Lawsuit abuse, particularly in Judicial Hellholes, threatens our quality of life when our supply chains are under attack. All of us–elected officials, judges, and consumers–must call out these judicial abuses and work to end them.