ST. LOUIS — Citing lax expert standards and huge payouts for plaintiffs, St. Louis has been given the top position in the annual Judicial Hellholes report released by the American Tort Reform Foundation (ATRF).

According to the ATRF report, St. Louis has become known for “fast trials, favorable rulings and big awards.” Four of the highest-paying verdicts in the U.S. in 2016-17 came from the St. Louis circuit court.

“It’s now being flooded with such claims from out-of-state plaintiffs eager to take advantage of Missouri’s lax standard for expert testimony and laws allowing easy forum shopping,” the report states. “It’s also fast becoming one of the personal injury bar’s favorite jurisdictions for asbestos claims and consumer class actions.”

Darren McKinney, spokesperson for ATRF, said he hopes the report causes lawmakers and others to take action. 

“We hope lawmakers, the media and the public are moved to act on our report,” he told the St. Louis Record.

The Missouri Association of Trial Attorneys (MATA) sees ATRF’s report differently.

“The explicit goal (of the report) is to scare state politicians into making anti-consumer changes in the law in order to make the label go away,” Jay Benson, MATA president, said. “The fake ranking is not based on research into the actual conditions in the courts.”

McKinney disagrees with MATA's claim that the report is "fake."

“There is nothing fake about it," he said. "Is it an opinionated report? Yes, it is. There is nothing stopping these shysters from making their own report if they so choose. However, every fact in this report has evidence to back it up.”

Cases the Judicial Hellholes report cites include 2,100 claims grouped in 260 lawsuits. The cases allege that talcum powder causes ovarian cancer, with no scientifically sound evidence, the report states. The verdicts totaled $197 million, and plaintiffs were from as far away as California and Alabama.

The report also cites lax expert standards as part of the problem in St. Louis.

“There really isn’t any evidence that this is true. Missouri has had a statute that for many years has codified the expert witness standard,” Ken Barnes, MATA executive committee member, said. “It is a standard that requires experts to use accepted methodology and rely on the proper types of facts in order to offer testimony. This statute has been studied by the Missouri Bar and compared to the current federal rule. The conclusion of the Bar was that the current standard did a good job of regulating the admission of expert testimony in Missouri courts.”

The Judicial Hellholes report has been conducted by ATRF since 2002. California routinely gets the No. 1 spot on the list but ranked second for 2016-17. New York City came in third.

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