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Posted in Commercial Litigation on February 20, 2017   |  by Gary Burger

Missouri Judicial System Broken?

Missouri Judicial System Broken?

Governor Greitens came down pretty hard on trial lawyers last week in his State of the State speech: Missouri attracts the “nastiest lawyers,” “our judicial system is broken,” and the time is up “for the trial lawyers who have broken it.”

St. Louis recently ranked as #1 on The American Tort Reform Association’s annual list of “Judicial Hellholes.” We got this ranking because of three jury verdicts in talcum powder cases totaling $197 million dollars. These are pretty consistent verdicts and the evidence about the defendant's conduct was pretty damning.

But that's still a lot of money and can be seen as irresponsible. Insurance companies and big corporations use these verdicts to sway the public against our legal system and the 7th Amendment. ATRA's members are Fortune 500 companies like AIG, General Electric, Geico, Dow, and others. For more about the use of verdicts to affect politics, our legal system, and tort reform. The movie Hot Coffee and its website well discuss this issue.

To the contrary, I and the other lawyers I know don't look on Missouri's judicial system as broken or out of whack. We have pretty balanced judges and juries who rule fairly. Wholesale legal changes such as changing the Missouri plan for selecting judges, imposing caps on recovery or other permanent changes seems arbitrary and unwarranted to address three verdicts in a distinct legal battle.

Those verdicts do not inform anyone about my cases or clients. I am not a nasty lawyer, but one who takes his oath and profession seriously and seeks daily to advance it. Insurers and corporations are not disadvantaged by our judicial system - to the contrary, it's the only place an individual can combat them.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch had a great article discussing how verdicts can correct injustices to ordinary citizens. There are many examples of how caps or other tort reform proposals would hurt the future injured (who don't have much of a political voice).

Here's a link to a blog last year of my top 10 ironies of tort reform. Here's three:

1) Legislators try to wreck your 7th amendment right to a jury trial, while zealously protecting your 2nd amendment right to bear arms. Both are important and should be protected.

2) Elected officials who try to pass tort reform must believe that voters who are smart enough to elect their representatives are not smart enough to sit on juries and evaluate cases competently.

3) Jury verdicts are not going up or out of control, rather insurance companies lose money on stock investments and other speculation. But the legislature pushes this subject over and over again – an insult to the facts and us citizens.