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Injury attorneys up ante at election

New reports from the American Tort Reform Association (ATRA) reveal the lengths to which Pennsylvania’s plaintiffs’ attorneys will go to tilt the scales of justice in their favor. Courtesy of plaintiffs’ attorneys’ massive spending on political contributions and legal advertising, Pennsylvania has gained a reputation as one of the nation’s worst judicial hellholes. The Commonwealth is plagued by nuclear verdicts (verdicts over $10 million) and an unpredictable and non-uniform civil court system. One needs to look no farther than the significant number of medical malpractice cases that are currently flooding the Philadelphia court system in search of jackpot pay days. The result is irreversible injury to our economy and health care.

The first study found that since 2017, the state trial bar’s political action committee (LawPAC) and the Philadelphia Trial Lawyers’ Association’s PAC (the Committee for a Better Tomorrow) have amassed more than $15.3 million in contributions. According to the report, the campaigns of state Supreme Court Justice Daniel McCaffery and Pennsylvania Superior Court Judge Maria McLaughlin have been the top two recipients of plaintiffs’ attorney contributions, receiving $1.8 million and $1.1 million respectively since 2017. Millions of more dollars went to other successful candidates. The report also notes that due to Pennsylvania’s campaign finance laws, it is difficult to track the full impact that trial lawyers have on the Commonwealth’s political environment.

The ATRA report provides a valuable service in identifying the big contributors to these PAC’s and the candidates who have benefited most from their largess. But this is not the whole story. The trial bar PACs also give to other trial bar related committees, such as Pennsylvanians for Judicial Fairness, PA Fund for Change, Fairness PA, Forward Together, and DT Pac. These PACs in turn donate the trial bar money they have collected to various candidates. This increases the actual amount of plaintiffs’ attorney contributions to candidates. This “shell game” of trial bar contributions makes it difficult to track all of the contributions being made with plaintiffs’ attorney money.

For example, The DT PAC takes contributions from the plaintiffs’ lawyers PACs mentioned in the report and gives contributions to Republican candidates who presumably do not want to be seen as taking trial bar political contributions!

Candidate campaign finance filings only show contributions from DT PAC and not where the money originally came from.

As stunning as the figures are in the ATRA report, they do not include plaintiffs’ law firms and plaintiffs’ attorneys that directly contribute to candidates. Thus, the actual amount of contributions from the plaintiffs’ bar is even greater than indicated in the report.

The second analysis focuses on legal services advertising in the state’s 11 media markets. The results show that in 2023 alone, $161.9 million was spent on more than 1.4 million local legal services advertisements – including print, digital, radio, outdoor and spot TV. It probably comes as no surprise that Morgan and Morgan holds the top spots in advertising dollars spent and number of ads.

As noted in an ATRA press release announcing the reports, “The top legal services advertisers in Pennsylvania wield substantial financial clout, collectively spending millions to saturate the advertising space. However, what is perhaps more alarming is the crossover between top advertisers and campaign donors, highlighting influence not only in the political sphere but in shaping public perceptions.”

One way to put an end to this vicious cycle would be to enact contingency fee caps. If plaintiffs’ attorneys can spend $161.9 million in Pennsylvania on ads, they can afford to cap their fees so they take home less and their client takes home more!

Curt Schroder is executive director of Pennsylvania Coalition for Civil Justice Reform, a 501(c)(6), not-for-profit, nonpartisan advocacy organization comprised of a diverse group of organizations and individuals committed to bringing fairness to Pennsylvania’s courts by raising awareness of civil justice issues and advocating for legal

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