‘Judicial Hellhole’ Ranking Remains Due to St. Louis City Courts

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Out-of-state lawsuits and court’s lax attitude toward expert evidence to blame

St. Louis is yet again among the worst “Judicial Hellholes®” in the country, according to the latest report from the American Tort Reform Foundation (ATRF).

The ATRF states that Missouri’s legislature has made great strides but the onus is on St. Louis courts to fall in line and implement the new laws.

In its 20th anniversary edition of the annual report, ATRF says the City of St. Louis Circuit Court’s lax attitude toward forum shopping and out-of-state lawsuits contributed to its No. 7 ranking this year, as well as judges allowing questionable scientific evidence in high-profile cases.

“Trial lawyers flock to St. Louis to file lawsuits and take advantage of plaintiff-friendly judges,” American Tort Reform Association President Tiger 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.”

ATRF says Missouri courts and the City of St. Louis Circuit Court are also notorious for awarding unwarranted and excessive punitive damage awards,which are damages beyond compensation to an injured party that are intended to punish a defendant.

While 2020 legislation sought to reform the system by which punitive damages are awarded, the Missouri Supreme Court has struggled to interpret the new rule.

In March 2021, the Missouri Supreme Court upheld a circuit court’s application of a lesser standard for the award of punitive damages in a medical malpractice case.

The report cites multiple high-profile lawsuits in St. Louis that are riddled with controversy, including the talc baby powder lawsuit involving 22 plaintiffs, the majority of whom had no connection to Missouri. The plaintiffs claimed their ovarian cancer was caused by exposure to asbestos, allegedly found in Johnson & Johnson’s baby powder. In June 2021, the U.S. Supreme Court announced it would not review the verdict.

“While it was disappointing that the U.S. Supreme Court denied cert in this case, it serves as an important reminder about how critical it is for states to enact civil justice reforms and rein in activist judges,” Joyce said. “However, I am encouraged by a recent finding by another St. Louis jury this September which found that talcum powder does not cause cancer.”

The Supreme Court grants certiorari in less than 2% of cases, so it is a mistake to rely on the High Court to police the decisions of rogue state judges. 

St. Louis, along with fellow Judicial Hellhole® California, is also home to tens of thousands of lawsuits against Bayer AG involving Roundup® weedkiller. The lawsuits allege that the active ingredient, glyphosate, causes non-Hodgkin lymphoma. ATRF’s report points out that while St. Louis’s trials are delayed due to settlement talks, the few that proceeded in California relied solely on an unfounded report by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). IARC deemed glyphosate a carcinogen, disregarding multiple agencies and organizations, including the U.S. EPA, which said glyphosate is safe to use.

Courts in the Gateway to the West also top the charts for asbestos lawsuit filings, with the fifth-highest number of suits filed. Two of the top four jurisdictions, however, are neighboring counties Madison and St. Clair in Illinois.

This year marks St. Louis’s eighth consecutive year as a Judicial Hellhole®. This summer, ATRF also named it an “Everlasting Judicial Hellhole” due to its persistent presence among the worst tort systems in the nation.

ATRF says Missouri continues to lose jobs and revenue thanks to high civil courts costs. The current total impact of these costs results in $3.38 billion in lost economic activity and 20,880 jobs lost.

St. Louis is one of eight Judicial Hellholes® in the 2021-2022 report:

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

Judicial Hellholes® are deemed the most unjust local courts and state civil justice systems in the country. Read the full report at JudicialHellholes.org.

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