By the time most law students have finished the first year of law school, they’ve had the responses “yes” and “no” surgically excised from their thoughts and replaced by the signature American legalism–“it depends.”
And it does. Any attorney worth his salt knows a client’s fate frequently depends on the location of the courthouse deciding it. Horse thieves never fared well in frontier courts, but outlaws like Billy the Kid did. Even now, the worst place for an oil company to get sued is not necessarily the worst place for an investment bank. Still, defense attorneys largely agree that a few locales are worst-case-scenario venues.
“There is a high degree of stability in what most people think are the most problematic places to get sued,” said Walter Olson, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and author of The Rule of Lawyers. “If you put pins on a map for the top 50 most outrageous verdicts, bizarre run-away juries and so forth, you would find this belt around the Gulf Coast that runs from southern Texas across Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama and Florida. These are also some of the places people consider the worst places to get sued.”
The complicated part, Olson adds, is that the map looks different for specific types of lawsuits. Defendants in medical malpractice lawsuits might have the cards stacked against them in a court that tends to favor defendants in mass-tort suits. So Forbes.com asked the American Tort Reform Association (ATRA), which surveys hundreds of defense attorneys and corporate executives every year for its report on litigation abuse on “Judicial Hellholes,” to list the places identified by the largest number of survey respondents as the worst possible places to be a defendant in particular types of lawsuits. The list they produced has a surprise or two for nearly everyone.
Hit with a personal-injury lawsuit? Better hope it’s not in Starr County, Texas. Class actions? Hopefully you won’t find out why John Grisham sets so many legal thrillers in Mississippi. Construction suits? Building’s not the only thing booming in Clark County, Nev. And journalists hoping to avoid libel suits may wish to avoid courts in Philadelphia, according to ATRA’s report for Forbes.
Last summer, Arelia Margarita Taveras, a once-rising legal star who represented victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and earned as much as $500,000 annually, was disbarred after she admitted to improperly using client funds to pay for her gambling addiction. In March, Taveras sued several casinos in Atlantic City, N.J., and Las Vegas for allowing her to gamble away nearly $1 million. Taveras had an embarrassment of riches as far as deciding where to file her lawsuit, according to ATRA.