Missouri Business Headlines

Senate gives initial approval to legal reform bill

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Stop job crushing lawsuits

The Missouri Senate has given first round approval to a bill that would enact commonsense reforms to our state’s lax punitive damages system, which is currently open to abuse that drives up payouts from businesses. Senate Bill 591 is sponsored by Sen. Bill White (R-Joplin), a Missouri Chamber 2019 Business Champion.

Being unfairly sued is an especially acute concern for businesses in Missouri, which suffers from one of the nation’s worst legal climates — currently 44th in the U.S., according to the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform.

“This bill is a key piece of our legal reform policy recommendations to help staunch the flood of frivolous, job-crushing lawsuits in Missouri that are stifling our economic growth,” said Daniel P. Mehan, president and CEO of the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry. “We thank Sen. Bill White for his leadership on this issue and will continue to advocate for Senate Bill 591’s passage into law.”

Throughout most of Missouri’s history, punitive damages were rarely awarded and were properly reserved for when intentional harm was caused. However, in recent years the practice has eroded into something resembling a mere negligence standard, with trial lawyers often automatically filing for punitive damages in an attempt to force businesses into agreeing to massive settlements.

“There is no requisite or calling for punishment or deterrents when you have a mistake, when you have an accident that has been made…Punitive damages aren’t meant for the run-of-the-mill negligence case. They are reserved for that egregious, flagrant, intentional act of harm,” said Sen. White on the Senate floor in introducing his bill.

In addition to reforming the punitive damages system, Senate Bill 591 includes fixes to Missouri’s Merchandising Practices Act (MMPA), another legal reform priority of the Missouri Chamber. Passed to protect consumers from unfair practices, today the MMPA is being twisted by trial lawyers to file huge lawsuits over superficial issues — such as having too much air in a candy package. These provisions would restore the MMPA to its original intent.

The Senate gave Senate Bill 591 a perfection vote on Feb. 26. The bill now awaits third reading and final passage by the Senate before it can move to the House for consideration there.

You can send a message to your legislators here asking them to support Senate Bill 591.

Questions about this issue? Contact Matt Panik at mpanik@mochamber.com or (573) 634-3511.

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