49th in the nation? A closer look at Missouri’s latest legal climate ranking

Jacob2In mid-September, the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform released its latest ranking of state legal climates, placing Missouri 49th in the nation. This is a drop from 2015, when our state ranked 42nd in the nation. Only Louisiana now ranks lower than Missouri, according to the latest report.

Right now you might be asking yourself: “Didn’t our governor and state legislature just enact several new laws to fix this problem? And is Missouri really that bad?”

The answers are yes, they did, and yes, we were that bad — but we likely aren’t any more.

To come up with its ranking, the Institute for Legal Reform surveyed senior business executives on their experiences with state legal environments. Collectively, these executives said Missouri was the worst state in the nation in regard to making sure lawsuits have a connection to where they are filed. They also said our state was one of the worst for judges’ competence and impartiality as well as the fairness of juries.

While that sounds bad, it’s important to note that this latest ranking does not reflect the very recent progress Missouri has made toward addressing legal climate issues. In fact, the Institute for Legal Reform specifically pointed this out when it released this latest ranking.

“The survey was in the field in the spring before the new reforms passed, and therefore reflects Missouri’s long-running problems with its lawsuit climate rather than the positive impact of its new laws,” according to the report from the Institute for Legal Reform.

The report also labeled Missouri’s legal climate as being in a “state of transition” and said additional reforms in the works are giving Missouri optimism that its ranking will improve in future surveys.

So while 49th doesn’t look good, there are reasons to think things might improve the next time the Institute for Legal Reform releases a ranking. Until then, here are some of the legal reforms passed into law in Missouri this year:

  • House Bill 153, which raises expert witness standards in Missouri and helps stop junk evidence from influencing court decisions.
  • Senate Bill 31, which allows courts to consider whether a plaintiff’s losses have been covered or reduced through other sources and helps stop trial attorneys from overstating damages to trigger windfall-sized awards.
  • Senate Bill 43, which reforms Missouri’s employment law standards while ensuring that businesses engaging in the unacceptable act of discrimination are held accountable.
  • Senate Bill 66, which fixes the Missouri Supreme Court’s 2014 Templemire decision and raises the standard of proof in workers’ compensation discrimination lawsuits.

For more information about how Missouri compares to other states in important business issues, see our Missouri 2030 Dashboard at mochamber.com/dashboard.

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