Philadelphia Court Readopts Protocols that Lead to 70% Reduction in Mass-Tort Filings

Earlier this month, the First Judicial District of Pennsylvania, Common Court of Philadelphia issued an order reaffirming certain transitional working rules with respect to mass tort filings.  The transitional working rules, or protocols, were initially adopted on February 15, 2012 to address concerns that the mass tort inventory was experiencing explosive growth.  The order noted that in the last six years the pending inventory rose from 2,542 cases to 5,302 cases, and that the 2011 year-end inventory of 6,174 cases burdened court resources and required additional oversight to assure meeting scheduled events and trial dates.

The protocols released in February 2012 require that reverse bifurcation be precluded, that all punitive damages claims be deferred, that pro hac vice appearances are limited to four per year, that all discovery occur within Philadelphia, and that cases be consolidated into groups of eight to ten based on certain considerations.  The consolidation protocols require that a group of eight to ten be formed before the cases are assigned a trial date.  Also, mediation of the cases is strongly encouraged by the protocols.

Since the adoption of the protocols, there has been a 70% reduction in new case filings, including a slight reduction in out of state cases.  The court also reported heightened settlement activity and reduction in discovery disputes.  Most importantly, the overall inventory of mass tort cases has been reduced by 14% to 5,302 cases as of December 31, 2012.  The court credits the adoption of the protocols for these improvements and, as such, saw fit to reaffirm them.

Philadelphia is one of the highest volume asbestos venues in the country.  The high volume translates to significant legal fees as cases can get deadlocked even where there is no liability for a particular client.  The increase in judicial efficiency in this venue is a welcomed development for asbestos defendants.


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