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Take a Visit to Some Judicial Hellholes

Updated: Apr 13

Our friends over at the American Tort Reform Association (ATRA) know how to grab your attention. Since 2002 they have been putting out a “Judicial Hellholes” reports. With an eye-catching name like that, this report is aimed at getting some coverage in the press, and the media has obliged. While the name may be sensationalistic, the content isn’t — the 2017-2018 edition is definitely worth a read for TAP readers interested in tort reform.

While Arkansas is not labeled as a “judicial hellhole,” it would be a mistake for Arkansas to ignore this report. It illustrates numerous instances of abuses in the legal system around the country. As the state’s voters considers what to do about tort reform, it’s good to be reminded of what can go wrong in the tort system. The ATRA report does this.

It is not all grim news reading through the booklet, however. There are a few bright spots, such as these paragraphs on the end of the class action suit filed against the Subway restraint chain regarding its “foot long” sandwiches:

Readers of this report will remember a slew of class actions being filed a few years ago after someone posted a photo of a sandwich that appeared to measure marginally less than a full 12 inches in length. Two of these seven class actions were filed by Cook County residents in the federal Northern District of Illinois. But sanity prevailed in August 2017 when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit finally put the bite on these cases, throwing out a proposed settlement approved by a Wisconsin federal court under which Subway agreed to be more careful and pay the plaintiffs’ attorneys more than half-million dollars. Under the settlement agreement, the nine Subway customers who brought the case walked away with $500, but the settlement was “utterly worthless” to the average Subway customer, according to the court. The court’s opinion stated it was a “hollow” deal and that reasonable consumers should understand the “natural variability in the baking process,” inevitably leaving some rolls shorter and longer than the advertised foot-long.

The suit in question was a clear example of the abuse of the class action system. It was a headline-grabbing suit over a frivolous complaint. The verdict awarded attorneys with a hefty payout but left consumers with very little. It is good to see that an appeals court bring an end to this ridiculous money-grab.

As Arkansas voters consider the tort reform ballot measure this year, it is useful to take an informed look into the problems with the American civil legal system. You’ll start the year off right with a read of ATRA’s “Judicial Hellhole” report.

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