U.S. Chamber Lawsuit Climate Survey – 2017

Alabama has moved up in the annual state lawsuit rankings to No. 43, according to the national lawsuit climate rankings published by the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform.

Alabama’s ranking in the 2017 Lawsuit Climate Survey: Ranking the States is up three places from 2015. Alabama’s ranking of 43rd this year compares with 46th in 2015. Alabama’s best score within the key element categories was 35th for the Quality of Appellate Review.

The rankings are important for state policy makers interested in job creation because an all-time high of 85 percent of business executives said the state’s litigation environment is likely to affect their decision where to do business. Perceptions matter because they can influence the decisions about where to conduct/expand/constrict business operations or sales.

“Alabama’s healthy business environment depends on many factors that include a level, legal playing field that does not punish job makers with frivolous lawsuits and unfair outcomes,” said Business Council of Alabama President and CEO William J. Canary. “While reforming the system to reduce frivolous lawsuits and make the system fairer for everyone, we must collectively be careful to protect the rule of law to seek fairness in our legal system.”

The 2017 Lawsuit Climate Survey: Ranking the States was conducted for the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform by the Harris Poll to explore how fair and reasonable the states’ tort liability systems are perceived to be by U.S. businesses.

“States not keeping up on legal reform are being passed by,” said ILR President Lisa A. Rickard. “There’s been progress, but let’s not kid ourselves—the ‘sue ‘em’ culture in the U.S. is still the world’s worst.”

But, she cautioned, overall improvement doesn’t mean states have achieved a healthy lawsuit climate

The 85 percent of business executives who said a state’s litigation climate is important and would influence their business decisions is a significant increase from 75 percent in 2015 and 70 percent in 2012.

The 2017 survey also revealed that the overall average scores of the states are increasing, and senior attorneys and executives see the litigation environment improving generally; more than six in 10 respondents – 63 percent – view the fairness and reasonableness of state court liability systems in the United States as excellent or pretty good, up from 50 percent in 2015 and 49 percent in 2012. The remaining 36 percent view the system as only fair or poor, or declined to answer – 1 percent.

Survey participants were comprised of a national sample of 1,321 in-house general counsel, senior litigators or attorneys, and other senior executives at companies with at least $100 million in annual revenues who indicated they are: (1) knowledgeable about litigation matters at companies; and (2) have first-hand, recent litigation experience in each state they evaluate. The 2017 ranking builds on previous years’ work where in 10 prior surveys since 2002 all 50 states were ranked by those familiar with the litigation environment in that state.

Respondents were first screened for their familiarity with states and those who were very or somewhat familiar with the litigation environment in a given state were then asked to evaluate that state. It is important to remember that courts and localities within a state may vary a great deal in fairness and reasonableness. However, respondents had to evaluate the state as a whole.

To explore the detailed nuances within each state was beyond the scope and purpose of this study. Other studies have demonstrated variability within a state. Thus, it is possible that some states received low grades due to the performance of one or two of their counties or jurisdictions. And state evaluations could also have been raised by city or county court systems that perform very well.

The survey of perceptions of the state liability system asked respondents to grade on overall treatment of tort and contract litigation, enforcing meaningful venue requirements, treatment of class action suits and mass consolidation suits, damages, proportional discovery, scientific and technical evidence, trial judges’ impartiality, trial judges’ competence, juries’ fairness, and the quality of appellate review. Respondents assigned grades to these elements and rankings were developed from these grades.

In tandem with the survey, ILR has released 101 Ways to Improve State Legal Systems, listing key legal reforms that states can adopt to improve their lawsuit climates.

To promote the survey, ILR is conducting a national public awareness campaign. The national and key state online and broadcast ads can be seen here.