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City of St. Louis and Multiple Illinois Counties Again Distinguish Themselves as "Judicial Hellholes"

January 20, 2021 | Lisa Larkin

The 2020/2021 “Judicial Hellholes Report” from the American Tort Reform Foundation has arrived and certain Missouri and Illinois jurisdictions again find themselves on this infamous list. The City of St. Louis comes in at #7 on the list while the trio of Cook, Madison, and St. Clair Counties in Illinois wins the #8 spot. The silver lining? Both of these rankings are down from the previous slots of #5 and #7 held by these counties, respectively, in the previous Judicial Hellholes Report.

Since 2002, the American Tort Reform Foundation has identified and documented places “where judges in civil cases systematically apply laws and court procedures in an unfair and unbalanced manner, generally to the disadvantage of defendants.” The stated goal of the Foundation’s program is “to shine a light on imbalances in the courts and thereby encourage positive changes by the judges themselves and, when needed, through legislative action or popular referenda.”

Coming in at #7 on the list, the City of St. Louis, Missouri, is singled out as being notorious for blatant forum shopping and excessive punitive damage awards, helping to earn Missouri the “Show-Me-Your-Lawsuit” nickname. The report also asserts that the court fails to ensure that cases are guided by sound science, citing instances where Plaintiff’s experts, whose testimony has been determined to not be based in science by other state court, have been permitted to testify in City of St. Louis courts. The report does see some hope for the City and the State of Missouri in general with the 2020 legislative enactment of several reforms intended to curb unreliable expert testimony and reduce litigation tourism, but cautions that true future success is contingent on the City of St. Louis Court’s compliance with the new statutes. The report notes that “some St. Louis judges have a history of ignoring both state law and U.S. Supreme Court precedent with regard to expert evidence standards, personal jurisdiction and venue, and damage awards.”

Number 8 on the list is the grouping of Cook, Madison and St. Clair Counties in Illinois. The report singles out these three counties as continuing to be preferred jurisdictions for plaintiffs’ lawyers “thanks to no-injury lawsuits, plaintiff-friendly rulings in asbestos litigation, and the promise of a liability-expanding legislative agenda each and every year.” The report calls Illinois ground zero for no-injury lawsuits, thanks in large part to the Biometric Information Privacy Act and the numerous expansive judicial interpretations of that law. The report finds some encouraging news in the Illinois Supreme Court’s June 2020 ruling in Rios v. Bayer Corp., where the court dismissed the claims of out-of-state plaintiffs for lack of jurisdiction because Bayer is not located in Illinois and does limited business there, the product was not manufactured in Illinois, and the plaintiffs experienced their injuries outside of Illinois.

The report also gives a dishonorable mention to the Missouri Court of Appeal thanks to a recent opinion addressing Section 537.065. This section permits a defendant to allow a plaintiff to obtain a judgment against it in court so long as the plaintiff agrees to only seek to collect the award from the defendant’s insurer. The Missouri legislature amended Section 537.065 in 2017 to require that parties give notice to the insurer that they have entered such an agreement so that the insurer can intervene and protect its interests, if needed. The report interprets a Missouri appellate court decision from 2020 as limiting an insurer’s ability to contest the policyholder’s liability or the plaintiff’s damages when it intervenes after the entry of arbitration award.

While there are some potential future bright spots for these Missouri and Illinois jurisdictions and their individual rankings are moving in the right direction, there seems to be a long way to go before we no longer see these local courts on the “Judicial Hellholes” list.
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The BSCR Missouri Law Blog examines significant developments, trends and changes in Missouri law on a broad range of topics of interest to Missouri practitioners and attorneys and businesses with disputes subject to Missouri law. Learn more about the editor, David Eisenberg.

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