LEGAL BATTLES - California claims an undesirable top spot on this year’s Judicial Hellholes® list, coming in at No. 3.
The American Tort Reform Foundation’s 2023-2024 report identifies a range of challenges in California. The year was marked by intensifying legal battles surrounding worker classification, asbestos litigation, “no-injury” lawsuits, and “greenwashing” litigation. Endless Prop-65 litigation also continues to target myriad industries and arbitration is under attack in both the courts and the legislature.
“California has always been a hub for innovation and entrepreneurship, but excessive litigation threatens to stifle business growth, preventing job creation and economic prosperity,” Tiger Joyce, president of the American Tort Reform Association said.
The struggle over worker classifications remained a focal point this year in California, which ATRF says negatively impacts gig workers and the trucking industry. Most recently, the California Supreme Court agreed to review the matter in June but has yet to issue a decision.
“California's gig workers, who often juggle multiple jobs to make ends meet in a high-cost-of-living state, depend on the flexibility of independent contractor status because it allows them to choose when, where, and how they work,” Joyce said. “The ongoing legal battles surrounding A.B. 5 and Prop-22 create uncertainty for workers, businesses, and consumers alike. Lawmakers should ensure everyone has the freedom to pursue their chosen work and earn a living without undue legal burdens.”
Data reveals that Californians pay the third-highest “tort tax” in the nation – nearly $2,120 each year. Meanwhile, more than 787,000 jobs are lost every year due to excessive tort costs.
“Lawsuit abuse poses a significant threat to hardworking families across California – the impacts cannot be understated.” said Victor Gomez, executive director of Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse and former 17-year small business owner. “As more lawsuits flood the system, costs and prices increase, making it more challenging for hardworking families to make ends meet. It’s raising the prices of everyday essentials from groceries to gasoline, for Californians from all walks of life.”
Proposition 65 filings increased 250% in the past decade, with some of the most notorious cases involving Roundup® weedkiller, whose main ingredient is glyphosate.
In October, a San Diego jury delivered a $332 million verdict against the maker of Roundup®, Monsanto. The company expressed its intent to appeal and pointed to significant legal and evidentiary errors made during the trial.
“California courts’ willingness to rely on dubious junk science has given rise to thousands of baseless personal injury claims against Roundup®,” Joyce said.
In November, the 9th Circuit affirmed an injunction to block the state from requiring a cancer warning on products containing glyphosate. The 9th Circuit specifically highlighted a lack of consensus in the scientific community regarding the link between glyphosate and cancer. The chemical was added to the Prop-65 listing in 2017, based on a single report from the International Agency for Research on Cancer. But regulators and scientists worldwide have deemed glyphosate safe, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. ATRF says it remains to be seen how the 9th Circuit’s decision might impact ongoing and future Roundup® litigation in California.
ATRF also spotlights a surge in "no-injury" lawsuits, often lacking genuine injury claims, specifically through the Private Attorney General Act, the Americans with Disability Act, and the state’s “lemon law.”
“PAGA was initially intended to protect workers, but unfortunately, it's not the workers who benefit, but the trial lawyers who file lawsuits for even the most minor labor code violations,” Joyce said.
California remains a hotspot for ADA accessibility litigation, hosting nearly one-third of the nation's ADA accessibility lawsuits last year. ATRF says the nature of violations is often minor and technical, but these seemingly insignificant issues can result in hefty penalties and legal battles for business owners. In January, the 9th Circuit issued a decision that removed courts' ability to take the “litigiousness of the plaintiff into consideration.”
“Californians should have equal access to services and facilities, but when lawsuits don’t actually claim a real injury and focus on minor issues, it burdens businesses and diverts critical, limited resources,” Joyce said. “The 9th Circuit’s decision will only further embolden serial plaintiffs who have no genuine intent to patronize the businesses they sue.”
ATRF also points to a new movement of “greenwashing” litigation in California – lawsuits against companies that tout their environmental sustainability efforts.
“It’s important to acknowledge the multifaceted situation companies face with the rise of ‘greenwashing’ lawsuits,” Joyce said. “On one hand, companies are sued for alleged contributions to climate change and environmental harm. Now, they’re slapped with lawsuits claiming they’re not meeting sustainability expectations, even while making substantial strides. This trend underscores the complex environmental challenges companies face today.”
For a comprehensive understanding of the challenges faced and to read the full section on California in this year’s report, visit JudicialHellholes.org.
(CALA - Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse (CALA) is a nonpartisan grassroots movement of concerned citizens and businesses who are fighting against lawsuit abuse in California. CALA serves as a watchdog to challenge the abuse of our civil justice system, and engages the public and the media to deliver the message that lawsuit abuse is alive and well in California — and that all Californians are paying the price.). To learn more about CALA, visit us at www.CaliforniaCALA.org