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MATA, Missouri Chamber dispute St. Louis’ status as “judicial hellhole”

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – The Missouri Association of Trial Attorneys (MATA) and the Missouri Chamber of Commerce have renewed their feud over tort reform over a new report that lists St. Louis, Missouri as a “judicial hellhole.”

The annual report, released Wednesday by the American Tort Reform Association, states that St. Louis moved up from last year’s number four spot on the list to take top billing because of its “lax standard for expert testimony.”

“This year… ‘junk science’ is driving groundless lawsuits and monstrous verdicts that have made the Circuit Court for the City of St. Louis the #1 ranked Judicial Hellhole,” American Tort Reform Association (ATRA) president Sherman “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 as their lawyers spend heavily on television advertising that works to prejudice potential jurors against defendants.”

The latest “hellhole” report marks the 15th year the ATRA has released such a ranking.

Bills have been filed in the past to institute new expert testimony standards – like the Daubert standard – as recently as last session, and Rep. Kevin Corlew, a strong supporter of such measures, has already pre-filed the bill for the 2017 legislative session. Dan Mehan, the president and CEO of the Missouri Chamber, noted that continued opposition to these reforms hurt businesses.

“The reforms Gov. Nixon vetoed are not outlandish ideas,” Mehan said in a statement. “They are common-sense reforms, often aligning with federal standards and the standards held by the majority of other states. We are trying to balance the scales of justice, nothing more. Right now, the courts are skewed against employers and that fact is getting national attention.”

However, MATA is quick to say that in no way, shape or form is the hellhole report a valid scientific study, pointing to a New York Times sidebar from 2007 where a spokesman for the ATRA said “We have never claimed to be an empirical study… It’s not a batting average or a slugging percentage.”

“The explicit goal [of the Hellhole Report] is to scare state politicians into making anti-consumer changes in the law in order to make the label go away,” MATA President Jay Benson said in a statement. “The Chamber tying their legislative initiatives to this transparently fake news report should frighten Missourians.”

Benson stressed that the hellhole reports were designed to give validity to pro-business organizations that have a vested interest in stopping lawsuits filed against companies by employees and consumers.

“The Chamber likes to talk about making Missouri’s business climate better for employers, which is an admirable goal, but one that shouldn’t come at the expense of worker, consumer or patient safety.”

Mehan alleges that trial attorneys have instead hurt Missouri’s economy by making the state a haven for frivolous lawsuits.

“Trial attorneys have poured millions into Missouri’s politicians to maintain their grip on our state courts and it is costing Missouri jobs,” he said, before adding that he expected the new administration under Gov.-elect Eric Greitens to make tort reform a top priority. House Speaker Todd Richardson has already named tort reform as subsequent only to labor reform in the upcoming legislative session.