Missouri ranked 49th in legal climate, new laws not reflected in rankings

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Missouri’s attempts to resolve issues in the state’s legal climate this session have now taken effect, but a new ranking by the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform still has the Show-Me State listed as one of the worst in the nation.

The rankings, published this week, place Missouri as 49th in the U.S. in damages, trial judge impartiality, and jury fairness. St. Louis is once again singled out as “one of the least fair places in the nation to face litigation.”

The report places Missouri as the overall worst in terms of enforcing meaningful venue requirement and actually ranked into top 5 worst in each single category.

This fall in numbers represents a decrease in seven spots, as the state had been ranked 42nd in 2015. Just three years before that, Missouri was ranked 34th in the legal climate ranking.

“Missouri’s business community has long struggled under a deteriorating legal climate. This was well-known among business leaders in our state — and unfortunately, it has become well-known outside Missouri as well. Our state’s poor legal climate has hurt our ability to compete for business investment and economic growth opportunities,” Daniel P. Mehan, president, and CEO of the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said. “The good news is most of the concerns in this year’s study have been addressed by the Legislature and Gov. Eric Greitens. It’s a new day in our state and our legal climate is vastly improved from where we were just months ago. The latest ranking simply underscores why the business community had been calling for comprehensive tort reform and further validates the actions taken by the legislature and the governor.”

And as Mehan pointed out, while the rankings do tend to reflect poorly, they did not factor in the newly enacted legal reforms passed by the Legislature and signed by Greitens earlier this year.

Those measures include:

  • House Bill 153, which implements the Daubert expert witness standards in Missouri
  • Senate Bill 31, better known as the collateral source rule, which provides that parties may introduce evidence of the actual cost, rather than the value, of the medical care rendered
  • Senate Bill 43, an employment discrimination law,modifying and creating new provisions relating to unlawful discriminatory practices
  • Senate Bill 66, which modifies provisions of state law relating to workers’ compensation

Attorney and lobbyist Rich AuBuchon said that even if the report doesn’t take those laws into account, it makes sense.

“It will take several years for the things passed this year to take effect, but for those cases already in the pipeline, it won’t affect them,” Aubuchon said. “Cases that are filed going forward will certainly see the effect, but cases that were filed before the Aug. 28 effective date will not retroactively be affected.”

He says one exception to that might be the Daubert standard, which could have an effect in a very limited amount of cases but could potentially be major cases.

But the problems that led to the ranking remain, and the Legislature will most likely attempt to resolve them in the coming legislative session, particularly venue laws and the merchandising practicing act, as well as unlimited punitive damages.

Brett Emison, a Kansas City lawyer and vice president of the Missouri Association of Trial Attorneys says the report itself is a flawed way to evaluate the state’s legal climate.

“I don’t think this means anything for the state or for anybody because the complete methodology that the Chamber uses is not based on any form of reality, and certainly not based on any fact specific to Missouri or anywhere else. If you look at the methodology behind this report they survey their members, members of multimillion dollar corporations whose sole goal is to make money for their shareholders,” he said. “You can look at their old reports all the way back to the early 2000s, and Missouri will be ranked somewhere in the 30’s. And somewhere in there, we had massive tort reforms that benefitted corporations and negligent doctors, we had venue restrictions, we had new caps on medical malpractice and punitive damages. And you know what happened to our ranking they year after that? It got worse. It went down. And it’s gone down every year since then.

“Either tort reform doesn’t work and we should stop doing it, or we should acknowledge that this report is not based on any semblance of fact anywhere.”

This story originally appeared on The Missouri Times.

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