JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – With the perfection of Rep. Kevin Corlew’s Daubert witness standards bill and Rep. Joe Don McGaugh’s collateral source rule change Tuesday, the two highly prioritized tort reform bills appear destined to pass through the House.
However, the House still has a significant number of tort bills. The five authored by Rep. Glen Kolkmeyer hint at the House’s next major tort reform issue: venue and joinder laws.
Kolkmeyer says his bills, numbered HB 459-463, address a problem where national cases come to Missouri because of the belief the St. Louis court system rules favorably towards plaintiffs. If multiple plaintiffs file lawsuits against the same defendant for similar damages, those plaintiffs may join together in the same trial.
Kolkmeyer says trial attorneys across the country filing major lawsuits, usually against corporate defendants, look to St. Louis for additional plaintiffs to add to the case because of that favorable reputation. Sometimes, Missouri-based clients will even drop out of suits, but the case will stay in the St. Louis court system.
“Right now, today, there are 8,400 out of state plaintiffs with cases filed in the city of St. Louis,” he emphasized. “That is clogging up our judicial system here in Missouri… It’s turned St. Louis into litigation tourism.”
His bills, he says, would put Missouri’s court system back on track to helping the people it is supposed to be helping: Missouri citizens.
“If someone from Kansas City is injured, by all means,” he says. “We’re not disenfranchising those people, our local Missouri citizens, whatsoever from filing suit. This is just all of these out-of-state plaintiff’s using our court system. That’s what we’re targeting.”
Sharon Jones, the deputy director of the Missouri Association of Trial Attorneys, argues the instances of those massive venue changes are rare, but that when they do happen, they’re justified.
“When it happens, it is for damages that are happening all over the country, so it ends up being a very large judgment because there is a lot of harm,” Jones said. “I understand what they’re saying that they see it as a problem because all of these people from out of the state are coming here to file a lawsuit, but in all of those suits there are also Missouri plaintiffs.”
She also noted one of the best personal injury law firms in the country, the Onder Law Firm, drew more cases to St. Louis because it is based in the city.
Jones also warns the General Assembly could run into problems with the way their legislation is written. For example, if she, a Boone County resident, and her boss, a Cole County resident, got into a car crash while traveling together, they would have to file separate suits because they live in different counties. The reason joinders exist is to make courts run more efficiently, and Jones fears the new laws could actually accomplish the opposite of their intention.
“We need to very carefully look at the issue and try to solve the problem… instead of cutting off joinder for everyone in the state forever,” she said.