Once again, California made the list of the nation’s top “Judicial Hellholes,” according to the latest rankings of the “most unfair” civil litigation courts by the American Tort Reform Foundation.
On the plus side, California dropped to the No. 2 ranking after previously topping the “Judicial Hellhole” list in 2012, 2013 and 2015.
Specific California cities and counties have regularly been cited for civil justice system imbalances by the Judicial Hellholes report since its inaugural edition in 2002.
The report cites the latest data available from the Court Statistics Project of the National Center for State Courts, showing that more than one million new lawsuits are filed annually in California’s state courts alone. Tens of thousands more are filed in federal courts here.
Lawsuits often target California employers or employers’ workplace practices.
Sitting Down on the Job
California’s high court in April 2016 unanimously ruled that state law entitles employees to sit in a chair at work on a task-by-task and location-by-location basis. Employers found in violation are liable for civil penalties to each employee for each separate instance.
A December 2016 decision by the California Supreme Court found that “the duty of employers and premises owners to exercise ordinary care in their use of asbestos includes preventing exposure to asbestos carried by the bodies and clothing of on-site worker” where it is “reasonably foreseeable” that workers “will act as vectors carrying asbestos from the premises to household members.”
Despite different appellate courts disagreeing, the Supreme Court embraced such liability for this so-called “take home” asbestos exposure.
ADA lawsuits in California continue to surge. These claims are usually brought under both the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and state civil rights law allowing for damages and attorney fees. These lawsuits are especially damaging for small business owners — particularly minorities and recent immigrants who are unable or unwilling to fight back.
Plaintiffs rarely seek renovations and actual access to an allegedly ADA-noncompliant restaurant, convenience store, nail salon or auto garage. “They just want to get paid and are happy to settle out of court,” according to the Judicial Hellholes report.
California lawmakers took a step toward curing California’s ADA lawsuit ills when Governor Brown signed SB 269 into law in May 2016. The bill allows small businesses time to correct certain technical violations without penalty.
Unsurprisingly, California’s Private Attorneys General Act (PAGA) generates many lawsuits. PAGA authorizes aggrieved employees to file lawsuits seeking civil penalties on behalf of themselves, other employees and the state of California.
Many PAGA lawsuits stem from “technical nitpicks,” according to the Judicial Hellholes report, such as an employer’s failure to list on an employee’s pay stub the inclusive dates of the pay period, or an employer’s failure to print its address on the employee’s pay stub, even though the address is printed on the paycheck itself.
Visit CalChamber’s Top Stories for full coverage of the Judicial Hellholes report.