Last month, the American Tort Reform Foundation released its 2016-2017 “Judicial Hellholes” report, which calls out the nine troubling courts or jurisdictions that have developed reputations for being unfair. This year, the Circuit Court for the City of St. Louis has the dubious distinction of being named the nation’s worst legal jurisdiction. Rounding out the list of top hellholes is California, New York City, Florida, New Jersey, Cook, Madison and St. Clair counties in Illinois, Louisiana, Newport News, Virginia, and Hidalgo County, Texas.
Over the years, Missouri, and the Circuit Court of St. Louis in particular, have played increasingly prominent roles in the Judicial Hellholes report for becoming a home to groundless lawsuits and outrageous verdicts. It’s worth looking at why Missouri has become such a hotbed for lawsuit abuse and why things there are getting worse.
According to the report, the Circuit Court for the City of St. Louis has become a headquarters for the “trap, trash and trick” tactics of personal injury lawyers. Because Missouri is one of the few states that has yet to adopt the more rigorous standard for expert testimony known as the Daubert Standard, personal injury lawyers try to “trap” lawsuits using scientifically unsound claims in the plaintiff-friendly St. Louis Circuit Court. After that, trial lawyer firms take to their airwaves, making huge investments in local advertisements in order to “trash” the defendants and attack their credibility. Once that’s done, all that’s left is to “trick” preconditioned jurors into believing the testimony of the unqualified expert witnesses.
Personal injury lawyers are using this strategy to flood the Circuit Court with talcum powder lawsuits, but the report notes that the Circuit Court’s problems go well beyond just talc lawsuits. The state’s weak evidence standards continue to attract a wide range of cases based on junk science. Until Missouri tightens up its evidence standards, the state will attract cases with evidence and expert testimony that would not fly in neighboring states. Worse, this problem has been exacerbated by a recent decision by the Supreme Court of Missouri decision that makes it even easier for personal injury lawyers to shop their cases to the friendliest state court and jurisdictions.
Problems at the Circuit Court for the City of St. Louis are so bad it managed to push California, a perennial Judicial Hellhole, down to the second spot. Unfortunately, this ranking “improvement” is nothing to celebrate, as the report notes that California continues to invite nearly 1 million new lawsuits every year. Despite this, California made little effort to address this problem last year. Instead, the state’s chief justice issued a decision opening California’s already overburdened courts to out-of-state plaintiffs with claims against national defendants.
California is still home to 40% of the nation’s lawsuits filed under the Americans with Disabilities Act. The report also highlights California’s ongoing problem with food advertising and labeling lawsuits, due to the easily misused state consumer protection laws. With lawmakers refusing to reform laws that encourage no-injury consumer fraud and false advertising lawsuits, California will likely continue to see laughable cases such as when Starbucks was sued for putting too much ice in its iced coffees. With all this, it’s easy to see why California’s ranking is nothing to celebrate.
The rest of the list featured in the Judicial Hellholes report touches on many of the issues that Citizens against Lawsuit Abuse (CALA) and Sick of Lawsuits (SOL) continue to fight against. Whether it’s Florida’s number four ranking due in part to two Florida Supreme Court decisions that will cause workers’ compensation rates to skyrocket, or Hidalgo County, Texas’s number nine ranking primarily due to fraud and abuse over hailstorm lawsuits, CALA and SOL have been on the front lines fighting against the issues highlighted in the report.
This report is just another example of the significant steps states will need to take in order to fix their legal environments. Will 2017 finally be the year that lawmakers actually listen?