Total State Verdicts: $5,774,402,604
Total Federal Verdicts: $1,961,464,635
Top Sub-Industries: Pharmaceuticals, Chemicals, Consumer Finance, Construction & Engineering
St. Louis Juries Drove Corporate Nuclear Verdicts in Both State (84%) and Federal (89%) Courts
$4.6 Billion St. Louis County Circuit Court Verdict Underscores Out-of-State Plaintiff Favorability
2019 State Law Sought to Restrict “Joinder” Process Which Piggybacks in Out-of-State Plaintiffs
Legal Services Ads in Missouri Increased 74% From 2016 to 2020
Marathon’s analysis found that 84% of state court corporate nuclear verdicts in Missouri were ordered by juries in St. Louis County Circuit Court. According to the ATR Foundation, this court is “notorious” for venue shopping and for awarding excessive punitive damages. Three St. Louis cases were among the top nuclear verdicts in the state: $4.6 billion in Ingham v. Johnson & Johnson (2018); $358 million in Heilig v. Fluor Corp. (2011); and $110 million in Swann v. Johnson & Johnson (2017). Though local laws prohibit mathematical formulas, plaintiffs’ lawyers in Missouri are permitted to request a specific amount for damages.
Marathon also found that 89% of federal court corporate nuclear verdicts were ordered by juries in the federal US District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri, which is based in St. Louis and has jurisdiction over fifty counties in the eastern half of the state. The court was notably the venue of three of the largest verdicts in the state, $1 billion in Monsanto Co. v. E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co. (2012); $491 million in Jo Ann Howard and Associates PC v. Cassity (2015); and $265 million in Bader Farms, Inc. v. Monsanto Co. (2020).
Overall, nuclear verdicts against pharmaceutical, chemical, and consumer finance firms drove the state’s total.
“Joinder” Practice Now Regulated
In 2019, Missouri’s legislature enacted SB 7, a bill aimed at making it more difficult for plaintiffs from outside St. Louis to file lawsuits in its court system. Proponents of the bill argued the court had a reputation for attracting out-of-state plaintiffs: of 13,252 plaintiffs in mass tort lawsuits filed in Missouri in recent years, only 1,035 were from Missouri and only 242 were from St. Louis. The bill put restrictions on the “joinder” of claims, the joining together of several lawsuits or several parties all in one lawsuit, provided the legal issues and the factual situation are the same for all plaintiffs and defendants. Proponents argued plaintiff attorneys have used joinder to get around Missouri’s venue requirements, and for piggybacking lawsuits from out-of-state residents onto those of Missouri residents – particularly in St. Louis.
The joinder practice was perhaps most exemplified by a $550 million actual damages and $4.14 billion punitive damages award in 2018 in a suit filed by 22 plaintiffs alleging that asbestos in Johnson & Johnson talcum powder caused ovarian cancer. Only five of the plaintiffs were Missouri residents. Though an appellate court reduced the damages to $2.12 billion in June 2020, the Missouri Supreme Court refused to review the verdict later that year.
Also of note, the US Chamber of Commerce’s 2017 survey of how businesses believe they are treated by state courts found Missouri ranked 49th out of 50 states for businesses facing injury claims.
Legal Services Advertising
According to the ATR Foundation and Kantar, between 2016 and 2020, spending on local advertisements for legal services and/or soliciting legal claims in Missouri increased by 15.36% while the quantity of ads increased by 74.02%.
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Corporate Verdicts Go Thermonuclear
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