In most recent state economic rankings, Missouri has tended to be average, at best. Its economic growth has been a middling 26th and its population inflow 39th. But the state has ranked at or near the top for one dubious industry—the litigation business, which the Manhattan Institute has dubbed Trial Lawyers, Inc. In 2016, the American Tort Reform Foundation dubbed the City of St. Louis, Missouri, the worst “judicial hellhole” in the nation. In a 2017 survey of 1,300 corporate litigators and senior executives—conducted by Harris Interactive for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Institute for Legal Reform—Missouri’s overall state liability system ranked 49th out of 50, trailing only Louisiana.
Unfortunately for Missouri, 85% of the corporate executives surveyed in the Harris Poll said that a state’s litigation climate “is likely to impact their company’s decisions about where to locate or expand.” Fortunately, Missouri’s elected leaders seem to grasp the problem. Governor Eric Greitens, who took office in January 2017, has called for legal reform, and Missouri legislators introduced more than two dozen bills in 2017 designed to improve the state’s legal climate. Several of these were enacted into law. Political leaders’ ability to build on this positive momentum—and fight back a likely counter from Missouri’s lawyer-friendly courts will determine the degree to which the state can shed its Sue Me State label and begin to attract more businesses outside the litigation industry.
James R. Copland is a senior fellow and director of legal policy at the Manhattan Institute.