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Gilroy, a town of 57,000 people in Northern California, is the southernmost city in the San Francisco Bay area. It’s long been known for its garlic crop. At certain times of the year, a drive through the area will bear aromatic witness to that fact — so much so that the town became well known for its annual Garlic Festival, which started in 1978.
Garlic Festival could draw up to 100,000 visitors, providing a major fund-raising opportunity for local nonprofits. But this year the organizers canceled the event indefinitely, citing prohibitive insurance requirements levied by the city of Gilroy.
What liability does this harmless, flowering relative of the leek pose? Here’s where it gets complicated.
In 2019 on the last day of the 3-day festival, a 19-year-old man, who had imbibed a range of extremist literature, evaded event security by sneaking through a creek bed for two miles, using bolt cutters on a gate, and then killing three people and injuring 17 before killing himself.
It’s hard to blame the city for demanding more insurance. The city is contesting a lawsuit that alleges the festival — held on city property — didn’t account for current risks to large events, and should have had more security staff and better perimeter security. Although, seeing how the killer snuck in, it’s hard to see how anything short of an Army National Guard battalion could have stopped him.
If an evil and troubled man can set in motion a chain of events that shuts down an important community event, perhaps there’s something more to the story. There is.
For a few decades, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Institute for Legal Reform has conducted periodic surveys of the lawsuit climate in states. The last published ranking shows California with the nation’s third-worst legal climate, just above last-place Illinois and Louisiana and a fair bit worse than fourth-place Mississippi.
California has ranked as one of the worst five states for lawsuits for the past 20 years. And other than a brief effort to reform the state’s then out-of-control medical malpractice system in 1975, resulting in the passage of the Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act known as MICRA, the trial bar has been free to print money in the Golden State, recycling a good portion of their gains back into the legislature to ensure something like MICRA never happens again.
The Institute for Legal Reform looks at 10 areas that drive the lawsuit environment: Enforcing meaningful venue requirements; overall treatment of tort and contract litigation; 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.
California ranked in the bottom five in all but one of the 10 categories, scientific and technical evidence, and ranked the worst in three: treatment of class action suits and mass consolidation suits, damages, and juries’ fairness.
When coupled with California’s 46th-place ranking for state and local taxes in 2022 — New York was 50 — its heavy regulatory compliance burden, calculated at $134,000 annually for small businesses back in 2009 and no doubt far worse today, its business-crushing response to the Covid-19 virus, and crime with no consequences thanks to district attorneys in Los Angeles and San Francisco, it’s no wonder inbound movers from other states plummeted 38 percent while Californians fleeing out of state increased 12 percent last year.
With Florida and Disney at war over the company’s woke politics, California might have had a chance to pick up some business — except California shut down Disneyland for more than 13 months due to Covid-19 fears while Florida allowed Disney World to reopen after only four months.
California was once a land of fun and dreams. Among them was the 44-year-old Gilroy Garlic Festival. But it seems California can’t have fun so long as lawyers are given a veto. And the dreams? The dreams are moving out of state.
Chuck DeVore is vice president of national initiatives at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a former California legislator, special assistant for foreign affairs in the Reagan-era Pentagon, and a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army (retired) Reserve. He’s the author of two books, “The Texas Model: Prosperity in the Lone Star State and Lessons for America,” and “China Attacks,” a novel.