Missouri Legislature should put limits on the use of joinder

By The Madison County Record | Feb 19, 2019

Last July, a St. Louis City Circuit Court jury awarded $4.7 billion to several women who claimed to have contracted ovarian cancer from asbestos in Johnson & Johnson talcum powder.

A statement released by Johnson & Johnson described the verdict as “the product of a fundamentally unfair process that allowed plaintiffs to present a group of 22 women, most of whom had no connection to Missouri, in a single case all alleging that they developed ovarian cancer. The result of the verdict, which awarded the exact same amounts to all plaintiffs irrespective of their individual facts, and differences in applicable law, reflects that the evidence in the case was simply overwhelmed by the prejudice of this type of proceeding.”

The company expressed confidence that “its products do not contain asbestos and do not cause ovarian cancer” and announced that it “intends to pursue all available appellate remedies. Every verdict against Johnson & Johnson in this court that has gone through the appeals process has been reversed,” the statement emphasized, “and the multiple errors present in this trial were worse than those in the prior trials which have been reversed.”

Like the Metro East, St. Louis has long been plagued by interstate forum shoppers attracted to courts with reputations for plaintiff-friendly judges and juries and extravagant awards. Although legislative reforms enacted in Missouri have helped stem the influx somewhat, intrastate forum-shopping is now on the rise and likewise needs to be addressed.

Richard AuBuchon of the Missouri Civil Justice Reform Coalition charges that plaintiff lawyers are abusing the joinder process to file suits in St. Louis, where juries are friendlier and judgments larger. AuBuchon points out that St. Louis residents currently represent fewer than 10 percent of the thousands of mass tort litigants in their hometown courts. Only 1,035 of the 13,252 plaintiffs are from Missouri, only 242 from St. Louis.

We join AuBuchon in encouraging support for Missouri House Bill 231, which would allow joinder of two or more plaintiffs in St. Louis only in specified circumstances. 

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