In 2005, the Missouri legislature changed the laws concerning venue. Venue refers to the county in which a lawsuit is to be filed and tried. The change to the venue law in 2005 was a part of comprehensive changes to the civil justice system.
In 2005, the Missouri legislature changed the laws concerning venue. Venue refers to the county in which a lawsuit is to be filed and tried. The change to the venue law in 2005 was a part of comprehensive changes to the civil justice system. Prior to 2005, corporate defendants had complained for years about being sued in the city of St. Louis and in Jackson County, which were viewed as venues friendly to the plaintiff. Prior to the changes in the law, a corporate defendant could be sued where its principle place of business was located, where its registered agent was located, where it did business, or where the event occurred giving rise to the lawsuit.
Thus, if one wanted to sue a company doing business in Jackson County, he or she could do so even though the event giving rise to the lawsuit occurred in Miller County, or even in another state. The thought behind the old law was that if a company did business in a particular county and benefited from the various services given residents and other businesses in the county, it should have to face the jurors who reside in that county.
Many lawyers became quite skillful in trying to find friendly venues for lawsuits. St. Louis lawyers were particularly skillful because they knew that if the case was brought in St. Louis County as opposed to St. Louis City, the outcome of the case could be entirely different. The skills applied by the lawyers were well within the existing laws and devoted to aiding their clients. Yet, large corporations complained about such venue shopping. Since large corporations helped elect the politicians who changed the venue laws, it was only a matter of time before the winds of change blew.
The law now is that a company can be sued only where the event which gave rise to the lawsuit occurred.
Thus, if someone wanted to sue a company for an event that occurred in Miller County, the plaintiff could file suit only in Miller County. It no longer matters where the registered agent was located, where the principle place of business for the corporation was, or whether the company did business in the county. If you get hurt there, you file suit there.
This change in the law had significant effect on lawsuits filed against railroads. The previous law allowed an injured worker to file suit in any county in which the railroad had tracks. Most railroads ran through either Jackson County or St. Louis and so many cases were brought in the Circuit Court for the City of St. Louis even though the injuries were suffered elsewhere. Such cases are brought under a federal law called the Federal Employees Liability Act and the city of St. Louis was a favorite place to file such lawsuits, until 2005.
Now, if the injury occurs outside the state, the new law provided that the only place the railroad could be sued was where its registered agent was located, unless the plaintiff was a Missouri resident in which case the case could be filed in his or her county of residence. The thought behind this law is that if one of our own railroad workers was injured out of state, the legislature wanted to make it possible for the plaintiff to sue where he lived. Otherwise, it’s where the registered agent is located, or where the injury occurred if in Missouri. The number of railroad cases in St. Louis and Jackson County dramatically declined.
Since 2005, lawyers have been forced to try cases in locations that were previously thought to be unfriendly to injured persons. However, in the past few months, it has become apparent that people who serve on juries in rural counties are not behaving the way the legislature and their corporate friends anticipated.
For example, my partner, Bill Carr, recently completed a trial in Miller County. The county seat is Tuscombia. The injuries occurred in that county and the business was located there. The only party that had no ties to Miller County was the injured party who had the misfortune of being injured there. My partner gave us reports during the trial and he was not very optimistic after completing the jury selection process. The plaintiff had been injured while riding a horse on a trail ride operated by the defendant. There was a dangerous condition on the property that the defendant acknowledged he knew about, but did nothing to remove or warn anyone about it. During jury selection, half of the potential jurors indicated that if a rider fell from the horse, it was the rider’s fault. Some of those people ended up on the jury.
However, Bill was able to convince all of the jurors that indeed a dangerous condition existed that the owner did nothing to correct and awarded Bill’s client a substantial amount of money, reduced by an assessment of the client’s fault by 15 percent. The client was elated, as was Bill.
Shortly after Bill’s verdict, another verdict was rendered in Cole County in Jefferson City which surprised everyone as Cole County is not known as a haven for plaintiff’s jury verdicts. The lawyers tried a good case and obtained a good result for the client.
In another case, a local doctor was sued in a rural county in southern Missouri and the jury found against the local doctor, who likely had treated either someone on the jury or in the families of the jurors. Most lawyers would have been afraid to sue a doctor in his own county, but the brave lawyers who did were quite successful.