JEFFERSON CITY (AP) — The Missouri Legislature has passed a bill aimed at keeping out-of-state plaintiffs from filing lawsuits in Missouri in an effort to win large settlements from plaintiff-friendly juries.
The Kansas City Star reported the measure revises the law that regulates where plaintiffs can get cases heard, and Republican. Gov. Mike Parson has indicated a willingness to sign it.
Plaintiffs have won multimillion-dollar verdicts in recent years from St. Louis City juries in suits against big companies like Johnson & Johnson, which has defended against charges that its talcum powder caused cancer. Defendants have complained that Missouri law allowed too much freedom to join multiple cases into single actions. The bill would stop the practice.
The Missouri House approved the Senate bill Wednesday on a party-line vote, with Republicans in support.
Trial attorneys opposed the change and said joining cases increases efficiency and cuts down on legal costs.
The changes made in the legislation follow a February ruling by the Missouri Supreme Court. In a 4-3 decision, the court found a St. Louis City Circuit Court judge incorrectly allowed a St. Louis County plaintiff's suit against Johnson & Johnson to move forward in his court. The matter should have been heard in St. Louis County, justices said.
The bill had support from companies often named in lawsuits like Monsanto, General Motors, Pfizer and Missouri hospitals.
Parson praised the vote, saying it represented "long overdue relief to Missouri businesses that have been taken advantage of by rampant abuse of our state's legal system."
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce regularly surveys businesses on how well they believe they're treated by state courts. Last year, Missouri was ranked 49th out of 50 states for businesses facing injury claims.
Karen Buschmann, a spokeswoman for the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry, in March singled out several recent lawsuits as examples, including one case against Johnson & Johnson.
Only two of the 61 people suing the company lived in Missouri and Johnson & Johnson is based in New Jersey, but a judge ruled the case could be heard in St. Louis because Johnson & Johnson hired a company in Union to distribute some of its products.
Currently in Missouri, if multiple people are hurt by the same person or business, they can file what's known as a "joinder claim." The injuries might have happened in different locations or on different days, but if there is enough of a connection the individuals can sue together.
Supporters of the existing law said it's expensive for an individual to go it alone against a multibillion-dollar global corporation, and joinder claims help mitigate that.
Those joining together to sue have some flexibility over where they file. If the people suing were hurt in multiple locations, they can choose which county to file in.
Under the bill, the fact that a company's product hurt multiple people at multiple times would not alone justify the plaintiffs joining in one lawsuit.
Each person would have to live in the same county, or would have to be hurt in the same way in the same place. If multiple people were hurt outside of the state, they would likely also have to file separate lawsuits. Some exceptions would be made for Missouri residents living in many of the state's smaller counties.