The American Tort Reform Association listed Jackson County on a watch list as a potential “Judicial Hellhole.”

The American Tort Reform Association listed Jackson County on a watch list as a potential “Judicial Hellhole.”

The association released its annual list of places where judges “systematically apply laws and court procedures in an unfair and unbalanced manner, generally against defendants in civil lawsuits.”

The association is funded by big corporations that are all to happy to claim they are being wrongly negligent, according to legal experts.

Jackson County joined St. Louis County and St. Louis on the 2008-09 list, released last week.

Last year, Jackson County provided the forum for a “dubious” class action lawsuit against Coca Cola, according to the report. The suit, filed last year, alleged the company misled consumers into believing fountain Diet Coke is the same product as bottled Diet Coke when, in fact, the fountain drink uses an additional sweetener.

The plaintiff maintained that she and other consumers would not have purchased Diet Coke if they knew it contained additional sweetener. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of anyone who purchased Diet Coke from a fountain after March 1999.

Jackson County Circuit Court Judge Stephen Nixon granted the suit as a class action. However, the Missouri Supreme Court unanimously reversed the circuit court,saying it abused its discretion by certifying an “overly broad case.”

“To me, there’s a legal question in that he (Nixon) made one call and they made another,” said Peggy McGraw, presiding judge of the Jackson County Circuit Court. “One judge may rule one way in a case and another judge would see it a different way.”

Nixon will be the next presiding judge of Jackson County on Jan. 1.

McGraw hasn’t read the full report but said Jackson County gets one of the highest number of verdicts in the state.

In fact, the report said that about two-thirds of the largest 25 verdicts in Missouri last year came from the three jurisdictions. They also hosted nine of the top 10 settlements in the state in 2007.

The one factor that kept Jackson County and St. Louis off the Hellhole list was Missouri’s comprehensive 2005 legal reforms. The reforms have improved several aspects of the state’s overall litigation environment, according to the report.

West Virginia was No. 1 as the top place for Judicial Hellholes for 2008-09, followed by South Florida, Cook County, Ill., Atlantic County N.J., Montgomery and Macon counties in Alabama, Los Angeles County, Calif., and Clark County, Nev.

To read the full report, go to www.atra.org.