WASHINGTON – The city of St. Louis continues to drop in American Tort Reform Association's Judicial Hellholes list, coming in at No. 5 on this year's ranking, but isn't exactly improving and still has plenty to hang its head about.
"The City of St. Louis is gaining a reputation as a favorite forum for those filing mass tort cases," ATRA said in its report about why the city reached this year's top-ten ranking. "According to one attorney interviewed for this report, St. Louis 'is Philadelphia all over again.' Objectively, it may be too soon to say that, but the jurisdiction warrants scrutiny."
This year's ranking for St. Louis was a improvement over its No. 4 placement in last year's ATRA "Judicial Hellhole" report and top of the list in 2017, despite reforms almost a decade ago.
"ATRA sources observe that the city of St. Louis is becoming known for permitting lawyers to combine multiple plaintiffs, sometimes from different states, in toxic tort and pharmaceutical cases," the ATRA report said. "While there is typically some common element (i.e. they took the same drug), there is little else linking their claims."
Plaintiffs' attorney identify a St. Louis plaintiff to gain enough jurisdiction for a local lawsuit and then join residents from outside the area to the suit, ATRA's report said.
"This prejudicial practice makes it difficult for businesses to mount a practical defense," the report said. "The different facts and laws at issue make it challenging for a court to fairly consider the evidence. Important questions of causation may be eclipsed by sympathy when a single trial includes several injured individuals who may or may not have been harmed by the product at issue."
St. Louis came in a spot ahead of No. 6 Georgia on this year's list.
At No. 7 on this year's list is Cook, Madison and St. Clair Counties in Illinois. The three counties scored that spot for allowing the area's "powerful plaintiffs' bar" to continued to "dominate" and for being "on the forefront of 'no-injury' lawsuits and remain hotspots for asbestos litigation."
"Not only are the prospects for reform grim, but the state legislature passed an aggressive pro-plaintiff agenda in 2019 with more of the same expected in 2020," ATRA said about its No. 7 placer on this year's list.
ATRA issued its first Judicial Hellholes list in 2002 to annually publish various abuses within the civil justice system, then largely focusing on jurisdictions where courts have been radically out of balance. The report has since expanded to include the growing influence of legislative and executive branches of government on the courts and areas where a lack of tort reform is creating huge payouts for venue shopping trial and plaintiff's attorneys.
St. Louis got a boost in 2005 with tort reforms in the state that included damage caps and "significantly improved St. Louis’s reputation," the ATRA report said.
About half as many personal injury claims have been filed in St. Louis in recent years, according to the report.
"This year, however, the number of asbestos, other product liability, and general personal injury claims hit their post-reform high in St. Louis, according to court statistics," the report said. "Fortunately, this growth is constrained by the state's venue law, but it is still a reason for concern."