Trial Lawyers ‘Willfully Misleading’ Media, Public on Much Needed MPA Reform

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WASHINGTON, D.C., February 7, 2017 – Noting “recent media coverage influenced by trial lawyers’ willful efforts to mislead the public about an important policy debate,” the American Tort Reform Association […]


WASHINGTON, D.C., February 7, 2017 – Noting “recent media coverage influenced by trial lawyers’ willful efforts to mislead the public about an important policy debate,” the American Tort Reform Association today urged journalists, lawmakers and academics to set the record straight.”

“With plenty of help from ‘Show Me Your Lawsuits State’ judges, the personal injury bar has managed over the past few decades to corrupt and distort the Missouri Merchandising Practices Act (MPA) into an all-purpose tool for bringing a variety of lawsuits – many of them preposterous,” began ATRA president Tiger Joyce.

He referenced a study by Emory University law professor Joanna Shepherd, showing that the number of MPA lawsuits has grown exponentially.  Shepherd attributes this growth to the original 1967 statute’s failure to define unlawful practices with specificity, subsequent expansions of the law by plaintiff-friendly courts, and 1973 amendments that invited private-sector lawyers to pursue attorneys’ fees and punitive damages in specious class actions that can actually hurt consumers when litigation costs are passed on in the form of higher prices.

“But now that a large majority of Missouri’s lawmakers and a new governor rightly see the MPA doing more to enrich trial lawyers than it does to protect consumers,” Joyce continued, “those lawyers are desperately spreading misinformation through the media in an effort to scuttle reform legislation.

“The trial lawyers have focused their media misinformation campaign on a provision in the reform bill, S.B. 5, which quite reasonably protects sellers of goods and services from lawsuits over alleged conduct that is either allowed or required by state or federal regulators.  Missouri’s lawsuit industry is falsely claiming that this provision would wholly exempt from MPA claims any industry that is regulated by a government agency.”

Offering a lengthy list of “flimsy MPA lawsuits filed in recent years that alleged various ‘unfair’ or ‘deceptive’ practices,” Joyce clarified that S.B. 5 “simply seeks to keep pay-day-seeking plaintiffs’ lawyers from dragging into court law-abiding merchants whose relevant conduct is considered permissible by a government agency already working at taxpayers’ expense to protect consumers.

Jennifer Artman, a Kansas City-based attorney who testified in support of S.B. 5 on ATRA’s behalf concurred, saying, “With this provision, our courts can rely on well thought-out decisions made by regulatory agencies and decades of guidance from the Federal Trade Commission.  It removes the very real risk of a plaintiffs’ lawyer bringing a private lawsuit claiming a business’s action is unfair or misleading when that same action is permitted by a government agency.”

Artman’s colleague, James Muehlberger, a seasoned Missouri litigator added, “We are seeing a surge of cut-and-paste MPA class actions in Missouri courts,” several of which he has defended.  “These are lawyer-driven claims that fight over whether a company can fit more Skittles or Hot Tamales in a box, or if cupcake mix or cleaning products qualify as ‘natural.’”

Agreeing with Artman’s and Muehlberger’s analyses, Joyce explained that, “31 other states already have such regulatory exemption language in their state consumer protection laws, including five that border Missouri: Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Tennessee.  So the notion that this element of the MPA reform bill is extraordinary or draconian is also patently false.

“For the sake of consumers, and in order to mitigate Missouri’s troubling reputation as a Judicial Hellhole that’s hostile to business investment, lawmakers and Governor Greitens should not be fooled by the trial lawyers’ propaganda and move ahead with their reasonable and much needed civil justice reform agenda,” Joyce concluded.

-ATRA-

 

The American Tort Reform Association, based in Washington, D.C., is the only national organization dedicated exclusively to tort and liability reform through public education and the enactment of legislation.  Its members include nonprofit organizations and small and large companies, as well as trade, business and professional associations from the state and national level.  The American Tort Reform Foundation is a sister organization dedicated primarily to research and public education.

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