There’ll be a major battle in the upcoming state legislature over the future of the “tort system”, which allows lawsuit for wrongful acts.
The Missouri Chamber of Commerce is touting a new study which claims St. Louis courts have become a magnet for product liability cases.
The American Tort Reform Association’s (ATRA) Judicial Hellholes report says the state’s lax standards and bias against employers has led to an influx of frivolous lawsuits.
Chamber president Dan Mehan thinks the report shines a spotlight on a major problem. “It’s well known that St. Louis city is not considered a balanced system” said Mehan. “It’s not considered fair in the eyes of a lot of our member companies when the get taken in there routinely on various tort issues”.
ATRA President Tiger Joyce said “The overwhelming majority of plaintiffs filing these suits are not from St. Louis, or even from Missouri. They travel from across the country to exploit a weak venue law”.
The state’s trial court hosted cases this year involving Johnson and Johnson which asserted that talcum powder causes ovarian cancer.
Tort reform advocates such as the Missouri Chamber want Missouri to adopt a standard used in 40 states which applies to the use of expert witnesses. It requires judges to oversee such testimony and determine if it should be allowed.
Missouri Association of Trial Attorneys President Jay Benson calls the American Tort Reform Association report “fake” news. “The explicit goal of the hellhole report, we believe, is to scare state politicians into making anti-consumer changes in the law in order to make the label go away” said Benson. “The fake ranking is not based on research into the actual conditions in our court.”
Benson contends the current arrangement protects consumers. “The whole purpose of the tort system is to hold people accountable and to compensate those persons who are harmed. And if we live in society where there is no tort system that does that, then we’ve got Ford Pintos running up and down the highway” Benson is referring to a case in which Ford Motor Company was determined in court to have been aware that its Pinto model was susceptible to exploding due to defective gas tanks in the 1970’s.
The Missouri Chamber, which represents employers, thinks the state’s system has allowed trial lawyers to bombard businesses with frivolous lawsuits. President Mehan says St. Louis courts are a particular problem. “If you’re talking to people that are creating the jobs and creating opportunities for Missourians, and in particular for people in St. Louis, they are extremely concerned about the judicial climate there.”
The Missouri Chamber plans to lobby for aggressive tort reform in the upcoming legislature. Republicans, who dominate the state legislature, are mostly receptive the idea. Governor-elect Reic Greitens has indicated tort reform will be a priority of his.
The Missouri Association of Trial Attorneys will vigorously oppose any such legislation.