Missouri Business Headlines

Legal reform update: Legislation would improve fairness

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Missouri has made good progress in recent years to help level the playing field for businesses in the state’s courtrooms.

But legal climate rankings continue to put Missouri’s civil justice system among the most unfair to business defendants. The U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform ranks Missouri 44th in the nation for lawsuit climate. Meanwhile, the latest American Tort Reform Association report put St. Louis as the seventh worst “Judicial Hellhole” in the nation.

In recent years, the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry has championed legislation to improve this situation. Recent successes include a 2020 law that stops trial attorneys from using the threat of punitive damages to force businesses into accepting windfall settlements. In 2019, the Missouri Chamber helped pass a law that stops lawsuits with little-or-no connection to Missouri to be filed in plaintiff-friendly St. Louis and Kansas City courts.

This year, the Missouri Chamber is building on this progress by working on a number of additional reforms.

  • Ensuring claims are filed in a timely manner: Missouri currently allows parties to wait five years before filing a claim. A commonsense reform by Sen. Dan Hegeman would ensure claims are filed within two years of the incident. This reform is included in Senate Bill 3. The Missouri Chamber testified in support of the legislation during a hearing on February 8.
  • Determining fault fairly: Senate Bill 171 would make sure that courts are able to get a better perspective on the situation surrounding the claim when establishing fault. This bill by Sen. Bill White would ensure courts can look to nonparties and consider whether they should bear some of the fault for the harm or injury. This change would help ensure businesses are not forced to shoulder excessive fault in cases where other parties may bear a percentage of the responsibility. The Missouri Chamber testified in support of the legislation during a hearing on February 8.
  • Protecting companies from unexpected liability claims: In some jurisdictions, courts are allowing plaintiffs to sue manufacturers who did not make the product that caused the injury. House Bill 782, filed by Rep. Curtis Trent would ensure this practice would not happen in Missouri. The bill would only permit plaintiffs to bring an action against the manufacturer that actually made the product that caused the alleged harm. The Missouri Chamber supports this policy to protect innovators from liability that should not be ascribed to them. The Missouri Chamber testified in support of the legislation during a hearing on February 9.
  • Clarifying collateral source policy: In 2017, the legislature passed reforms so that only the actual cost of medical care could be offered as evidence in a case. House Bill 577, introduced by Rep. Alex Riley, would ensure that the amount billed for medical care, which is often much higher than the amount actually paid, could not be introduced. Judicial decisions ignored the 2017 legislation and left open the possibility for the billed amount to be included. House Bill 577 would ensure that only the amount actually paid could be introduced.
  • Placing reasonable time limits on product liability claims: House Bill 474 by Rep. Curtis Trent would ensure that product liability claims are filed within 15 years of the sale or lease of the product. This would protect businesses from decades-old claims while ensuring people still have adequate time to bring any claims to court. This bill was passed by a House committee on February 9 and awaits debate by the House of Representatives.

Legal climate remains a major concern for the state’s employers, including our top legislative priority: bringing critical COVID-liability protections to Missouri.

The Missouri Chamber will continue to champion these issues in the state capitol and we will keep you informed as these bills move forward.

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