Legal reform package nears finish line
Final passage by the full House of Representatives is the only hurdle remaining for Senate Bill 591, a critical bill that would make long-needed reforms to Missouri’s legal climate. A Rules committee approved it on May 8 after House committee passed it on May 7. The legislation would fix problems with how punitive damages are used in Missouri courtrooms as well as repair the Missouri Merchandising Practices Act.
This package — the Missouri Chamber’s number one priority for the 2020 session — is needed as Missouri’s legal climate continues to be ranked among the worst in the nation.
The state’s outrageous punitive damages system remains a leading cause for concern. Originally designed as a way to punish and deter a small number of defendants who demonstrated the worst type of conduct, today greedy trial attorneys abuse Missouri’s punitive damage system to bully businesses into agreeing to windfall-sized payouts.
Rather than being used as a rare deterrent, it’s now a common practice for plaintiffs to file for punitive damages, with some attorneys going as far as saying it is malpractice not to file for punitive damages in Missouri.
“Unfortunately, I’ve heard an attorney say at a meeting, not on the record, that they would almost consider it malpractice to not file punitives when they file a compensatory case. That’s how diluted the concept of punitive damages has gotten,” said bill sponsor Sen. Bill White (R-Joplin) at the bill’s House committee hearing.
This package also contains an important measure from a bill by Sen. Tony Luetkemeyer (R-Platte County): reforms to the Missouri Merchandising Practices Act (MMPA) that require commonsense changes including that plaintiffs must demonstrate they acted as a reasonable consumer and members of class actions must demonstrate individual harm.