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Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Missouri trial lawyers respond to St. Louis' 'hellhole' designation

By Glenn Minnis | Dec 20, 2016

WASHINGTON (Legal Newsline) -- The president of Missouri's plaintiffs lawyer organization says an annual report that this year singled out St. Louis as the jurisdiction most in need of legal reform is designed to scare state lawmakers.

According to the American Tort Reform Association,the city of St. Louis reigns as the top “judicial hellhole” in the nation. ATRA considers the circuit court there as the most unfair to defendants facing civil lawsuits.

Overall, ATRA branded the Missouri court system a “magnet” for product liability lawsuits and consumer class actions.

In defending his state’s honor, Missouri Association of Trial Attorneys President Jay Benson insists his group sees the report for what he truly believes it is.

“The explicit goal of the Hellhole Report is to scare state politicians into making anti-consumer changes in the law in order to make the label go away,” he told Legal Newsline. “The fake ranking is not based on research into the actual conditions in the courts.”

California courts, New York City’s asbestos court, the Florida courts and New Jersey courts ranked second, third, fourth and fifth on the list, respectively.

However, St. Louis stood head and shoulders above the rest, with ATRA President Tiger Joyce noting the “Show Me Your Lawsuits State’s lax standard for expert testimony is driving groundless lawsuits and monstrous verdicts.”

Most notable were three massive verdicts against Johnson & Johnson over its products containing talc.

Data shows many of the cases recently adjudicated in the St. Louis court system were filed by parties who don't live in Missouri.

ATRA representatives pointed out that the three major talcum powder cases that linked the product to ovarian cancer verdicts involved plaintiffs from Alabama, South Dakota and California. In those instances, the plaintiffs walked away with a combined $197 million in verdicts.

Missouri is one of a minority of states not to have adopted the Daubert standard for expert testimony, which requires judges to critically review the substance of all expert testimony before it is allowed to be presented to a jury.

MATA Board of Governors member Ken E. Barnes insists the group doesn’t have any plans of advocating for any Daubert implementations anytime soon.

“We don’t need Daubert,” he said. “We don’t feel the adoption benefits anyone at the time they find themselves in front of a judge and jury. 

"For another thing, we are convinced it’s not a uniformed standard. We feel it’s a case of creating a problem to look for a solution."

The annual Judicial Hellholes report compiles the most significant court rulings and legislative actions over the course of the previous year but only considers civil litigation in ranking courts. 

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Organizations in this Story

American Tort Reform Association