‘Judicial Hellhole’ St. Louis a Gateway for Out-of-State Lawsuits

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Mo. Supreme Court refuses to review talc decision, majority of plaintiffs from out of state

The City of St. Louis’s love of lawsuits lands the litigious locale the dubious distinction of “Judicial Hellhole” for the fifth year running.

The American Tort Reform Foundation (ATRF) named the City of St. Louis as No. 7 this year, down two spots from last year. Judicial Hellholes are deemed the most unjust local courts and state civil justice systems in the country. The 2020 report ranks nine Judicial Hellholes while shining a light on lawsuit abuse and its effects.

St. Louis is no stranger to being called a Judicial Hellhole and residents are familiar with how lawsuit abuse impacts their pocketbooks.

“Not only does lawsuit abuse drag down the overall economy, as we’ve seen this year with thousands of COVID-19-related lawsuits,” American Tort Reform Association (ATRA) President Tiger Joyce said, “But in St. Louis, a family of four can pay a tort tax of nearly $2,300 every year – that’s more than four months worth of groceries spent on lawsuits!”

Excessive tort costs resulted in more than 15,000 jobs lost in St. Louis in 2018 and more than 32,200 jobs lost in all of Missouri last year. 

St. Louis continues to be a popular court system for traveling trial lawyers looking for a comfortable place to bring their cases. The city’s loose rules about what qualifies as “expert” scientific evidence is an added bonus.

“Trial lawyers flock to St. Louis to file their lawsuits and take advantage of the plaintiff-friendly judges,” Joyce said. “Out-of-state lawsuits clog the city’s courts, drain court resources, and drive businesses out of the state leading to job loss.” 

The city is home to the largest talc verdict in the country. A group of 22 plaintiffs, 17 of whom had no connection to Missouri, were awarded $550 million in actual damages and $4.14 billion in punitive damages. They claimed their ovarian cancer was caused by exposure to asbestos, allegedly found in Johnson & Johnson’s baby powder. Judges allowed trial lawyers to present evidence in court that talcum powder causes cancer. The American Cancer Society called this research “mixed” and “biased.” Last month, the Missouri Supreme Court refused to review the judgment. Johnson & Johnson plans to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

St. Louis is also home to tens of thousands of lawsuits related to Roundup weedkiller. The trials are delayed due to settlement talks, but the few that proceeded in California relied solely on an unfounded report by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) that deemed Roundup’s active ingredient, glyphosate, a carcinogen. Multiple agencies and organizations, including the U.S. EPA, say glyphosate is safe to use.

Trial lawyers in St. Louis use extensive advertising to aggressively recruit clients to increase pressure on defendants to settle. In one half of 2018, more than $2 million were spent on 28,000 local TV ads to solicit more clients. 

In one bright spot for the state of Missouri this year, the legislature and Governor Parson reformed the state’s long-abused consumer protection law, the Missouri Merchandising Practices Act. The reforms will crack down on frivolous “no-injury” lawsuits that occur when a plaintiff doesn’t actually claim they suffered any injury and will reduce lengthy and expensive litigation. 

The bill also reforms the law regarding punitive damages, which are awards meant to punish the party being sued. The reforms tighten up the system to help prevent excessive and unwarranted punitive damages awards, which Missouri’s courts are known for, and requires clear and convincing evidence that the defendant intentionally harmed the plaintiff.

The full 2020-2021 Judicial Hellholes rankings are:

  1. Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas and the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
  2. New York City
  3. California
  4. South Carolina’s Asbestos Litigation (New in 2020)
  5. Louisiana
  6. Georgia
  7. City of St. Louis
  8. Cook, Madison and St. Clair Counties, Illinois
  9. Minnesota

View the full report at JudicialHellholes.org.

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