It’s not easy to come from behind, but having the right leadership makes all the difference. Right now, Missouri’s elected officials are working hard to catch up and run with other states on one of our nation’s most important and most competitive economic fronts: establishing a favorable litigation climate that will attract business and create jobs. Unfortunately, Missouri is starting this race from the back of the pack, but under the leadership of Gov. Eric Greitens and a unified legislature, an impressive turnaround has just begun.
New research ranking the lawsuit climates in all 50 states (conducted by global polling firm Harris Poll and released by the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform) shows Missouri in 49th place. This shows just how much damage was caused by the previous administration’s disregard for tort reform. Bad laws, bad jurisdictions that have become known for jackpot justice, and the reputation of the courts as a haven for frivolous litigation that has no business being in Missouri have all taken their toll.
In 2017, this started to change. In his state of the state address in January, Greitens said: “Our judicial system is broken, and the trial lawyers have broken it. Well, their time is up.” Recently enacted reforms to keep junk science out of state courts, curb “gotcha” lawsuits against insurers, and allow juries to know if a plaintiff already received compensation for the injury they are suing over have demonstrated that this was no empty promise.
Missouri’s efforts to turn around its low ranking couldn’t come at a better time. Business executives are placing a higher value on a fair litigation environment than ever before. Fully 85 percent of survey participants — over 1,300 senior attorneys and other executives from major businesses — said that a state’s lawsuit environment is likely to impact their company’s decisions about where to locate or expand. And other states know this. In fact, 47 states saw their raw score go up since 2015, the last time the Harris survey was conducted. The difference between states’ individual scores is the smallest it has ever been in the history of the survey, which started in 2002.
Put another way: If improving litigation environments were a marathon, the pack of runners (the states) would be tightening, running closer together and running faster. States that are not keeping up may be overtaken, passed by in an area that deeply impacts jobs — and this is a message Greitens and his colleagues can use to build the consensus needed to pass additional reforms.
In the 2018 session, Missouri should look to tighten rules ensuring lawsuits have a connection to where they are filed, combat “double dip” asbestos claims (against trusts established to compensate claimants) and increase transparency and limit how much money lawyers can make when the state hires outside lawyers to represent it.
The hard work and leadership required to be the “Show-Me State” instead of the “Sue-Me State” have already begun. Missouri may have started the race from the back of the pack — but it clearly doesn’t intend to stay there.
Dan Mehan is president of and CEO of the Missouri Chamber of Commerce. He co-wrote this with Lisa A. Rickard, president of the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform