The lumbering giant of litigation, after sleeping through 2020 and starting to stir in 2021, came fully awake last year.
In calendar year 2022, Missouri Lawyers Media’s Verdicts & Settlements database tracked 72 plaintiff wins valued at $1 million or more, up from just 45 in 2021 and from 64 in 2020. We also counted 26 defense wins last year with $1 million or more in potential or alleged damages, versus 17 in 2021 and only seven in 2020.
Our figures, which are based on cases submitted to Missouri Lawyers Media or found through our reporting, don’t necessarily capture every case tried or settled in 2022. But it seems safe to say that litigation in general and trials in particular appear to be getting back to the levels seen before the COVID-19 pandemic brought court operations to a crashing halt in March 2020.
A whopping 36 of the million-dollar wins resulted from jury verdicts — more than double the 17 we tracked in 2021 and six times as many recorded in 2020. All in all, there were at least 104 trials in Missouri resulting in a verdict for plaintiffs or defendants, up from 57 trials in 2021 and just 22 trials recorded in 2020. In comparison, in 2019, the last full year of normal court operations, our database recorded 92 trials total, including 74 million-dollar plaintiff wins.
The overall value of Missouri cases remained level. The median million-dollar win in 2022 was $3 million, the same as the year before. The combined value of the 10 largest plaintiffs’ wins also stayed steady, at a bit under $1.03 billion.
Yet jury verdicts have risen in value as well as numbers. In 2021, there were just four reported verdicts of $10 million or more, the largest of which was a $34.1 million medical malpractice case. In 2022, however, 10 verdicts exceeded the $10 million threshold. The year’s biggest verdict was the $177 million that a St. Louis jury awarded in October to a hotel guest sexually assaulted in her room by a security guard, secured by a team from Davis, Bethune & Jones and The McLeod Law Firm in Kansas City.
Missouri’s single largest case, a $458 million settlement with opioid makers and distributors that then-Attorney General Eric Schmitt finalized last February, technically wasn’t achieved in a Missouri court but rather as part of multidistrict litigation in an Ohio federal court. That MDL, however, included litigation originally filed in Missouri, including some that remains pending.
The settlements with Johnson & Johnson and opioid distributors McKesson, Cardinal Health and AmerisourceBergen will bring $274.8 million to the state and another $183.2 million for Missouri’s counties, 85 percent of which must be used for opioid-related programs.
The state’s portion was achieved with staff lawyers from the attorney general’s office, and Schmitt bragged that none of the settlement money would go to attorneys’ fees. Yet there were many private attorneys who represented a group of 90 counties that had brought their own litigation and took part in the negotiations.
Jack Garvey of Branstetter, Stranch & Jennings in St. Louis, a former St. Louis circuit judge and one of the counties’ attorneys, said an ongoing case in Jefferson County Circuit Court played a critical role in getting the parties to the table, as it was one of the few cases nationwide with a trial date, currently scheduled for April 2024.
Eric Holland of the Holland Law Firm, another of the Missouri lawyers on the case, said the ongoing suit makes claims against several pharmacy benefit managers, such as Express Scripts and UnitedHealth, which have not been brought in other litigation. Those claims have taken longer to prepare, he said, “due to the fact that that wheel has never been built.”
Missouri’s major defense wins in 2022 are also a tale of ongoing litigation. The first and third biggest wins were both in favor of Monsanto on claims that plaintiffs had suffered non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma as a result of the company’s herbicide Roundup.
A Jackson County jury entered a defense verdict in June for a plaintiff who had sought $160 million in damages. Three months later, a St. Louis County jury reached a similar conclusion on three plaintiffs’ claims of similar injuries. A raft of defense lawyers were involved, but local attorneys from Shook, Hardy & Bacon, Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner, Thompson Coburn and Husch Blackwell played key roles.
In a statement, Monsanto’s now-parent company, Bayer, said the September case was the fifth one nationally with similar allegations to end in a defense verdict in 2022. But it wasn’t the last. Another suit against Monsanto began in November in St. Louis but was resolved with a confidential settlement three days into the trial.
And yet another trial was supposed to start in the same court in January. But in a Jan. 20 order, the Missouri Supreme Court ordered a halt while it considered Monsanto’s claims that St. Louis Circuit Court is an improper venue for the six plaintiffs, who don’t live in Missouri.
Publisher's letter and honorees | Digital Edition | Event photos | Honoree photos | Past winners
Top V&S: Article | Top winners | Plaintiff wins | Defense wins | Digital edition | Past editions