On Thursday Feb 16,2012, the Philadelphia Court system reversed a long standing policy of encouraging out of state plaintiffs to file and try cases in the Philadelphia trial Court. According to the Court, a backlog of cases has developed which is not in accordance with ABA guidelines. Others speculate the reversal was the result of continuing pressure from industry and the asbestos defense bar to change how mesothelioma lawsuits are handled in Pennsylvania. It is unclear what the court directive means for out of state plaintiffs with cases already filed in Philadelphia. Also eliminated by the directive is the long standing policy of trying cases in large groups as well as the use of a procedure known as reverse bifurcation. Reverse bifurcation involves trials where damages are tried before liability. This procedure was considered a major factor in fostering settlement.
“To be sure, the reversal of the policy behind accepting mesothelioma cases and the trial of mesothelioma cases in Philadelphia is not good for plaintiffs as a whole. ” says Chris Placitella who chairs the American Association for Justice asbestos litigation group. Placitella, who was recently named by Trial Magazine as one of the 100 most influential trial lawyers in America rationalizes, “The silver lining, if there is one, is that people who develop mesothelioma in Pennsylvania will hopefully have their cases tried sooner with a less crowded docket.”
The directive also makes it more difficult for out of state lawyers to try asbestos cases in Philadelphia limiting any particular lawyer to two cases per year. The irony according to Placitella is that it is that some defendants and national defense firms will feel the weight of the court directive the most. Some out of state national defense counsel have made a living trying cases in Philadelphia even though they are not formally admitted to practice law in Pennsylvania. According to Placitella, plaintiffs whose cases belong in Pennsylvania will not be harmed by this directive assuming they still receive timely trial dates. Those cases will simply be referred to law firms like ours who have a long history of success in the Pennsylvania court system. Placitella’s law firm, Cohen Placitella & Roth with offices in Philadelphia and New Jersey has a long standing history of prosecuting cases in PA. Many corporate defendants on the other hand need to go out shopping for Pennsylvania lawyers to try their cases. The defendants will no longer have the choice of bringing in outside national counsel to try the cases which will open up new opportunities for Pennsylvania lawyers. Other mass tort cases not involving asbestos, such as cases against the drug companies, remain unaffected at this time. A copy of the Court directive is attached.