Tue December 17, 2013
New Distinction For St. Louis: It Joins Madison County On 'Judicial Hellhole' List
A group that lobbies to make courts friendlier to business says it’s seeing a troubling increase in the number of large product liability cases filed in the city of St. Louis.
The American Tort Reform Association publishes the list every year that measures the legal climate in counties across the country. ATRA communications director Darren McKinney says over the past six or seven years, St. Louis has emerged as a city that attracts a great deal of liability lawsuits. This year, it became enough of a concern to put the city on the association's judicial hellhole watch list.
McKinney says trial attorneys find one person who lives in St. Louis and was harmed by a product. They then recruit additional consumers from across the United States to participate in the lawsuit. All of the plaintiffs, he says, will have used the product, but under very different circumstances.
"It’s almost impossible for the defendant to defend against such an array of plaintiffs," McKinney says. "If it’s a one-on-one situation, if it’s one plaintiff with one claim against one defendant, then it’s a jump ball."
ATRA also named Madison County, Ill., a judicial hellhole for the heavy concentration of asbestos cases filed in the court, including many with no connection to Illinois. The report says as many as 25 percent of asbestos cases nationwide are first filed in Madison County.
Trial attorneys like Michael Angelides, the managing director at the Simmons Law Firm in Alton, dismiss the report. He says it's based solely on anecdotal evidence.
Angelides' firm handles many asbestos cases. He says he finds it ironic that defense attorneys are bashing a system they created.
"They like to put out a lot of press that it is not a good deal. The proof is in the pudding," he says. "The cases are filed here. The defendants could move to dismiss or transfer the cases at any time if they felt it was improper. And the proof is that they don’t do that."
The chief judge of Madison County, Dave Hylla, agreed, saying that attorneys request a change of venue in less than one percent of the asbestos cases filed.
Angelides says the designation also fails to take into account whether the plaintiff or the defendant wins the cases that are filed. He says most asbestos cases are settled without trial, and that Madison County juries have not ruled for a plaintiff in an asbestos case in 10 years.
- Read ATRA's full judicial hellhole report here.
Follow Rachel Lippmann on Twitter: @rlippmann