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Stopping the proliferation of punitive damages

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Once rarely used, punitive damages are now all too commonly sought in Missouri lawsuits. A Missouri Senate committee is considering a bill to address this issue.

“Unfortunately, over time the threshold for filing claims for punitive damages has decreased to the point where filing seems to often be a standard practice in certain types of lawsuits,” said Sen. Bill White, a Republican from Joplin. “And it’s to the point where I’ve actually heard attorneys saying, ‘Well if I didn’t file that, maybe I’d be subject to malpractice.’”

Sen. White is working to reform the overuse of punitive damages in the state with his Senate Bill 65.

Mark Behrens, co-chair of the Public Policy Practice Group at Shook Hardy & Bacon, said that changes have led to a “proliferation of punitive damages.”

“Through most of Missouri’s history, punitive damages merited very scant attention. They were rarely awarded,” Behrens said. “And when they were they were often very small in amount. They were reserved for intentional harms. But that standard has been watered down to something more like a negligence standard.”

Matt Panik, Missouri Chamber vice president of governmental affairs, testified in support of the bill.

“It’s clear punitive damages are being overused in Missouri. This is part of the reason why our state continues to rate poorly in national legal climate comparisons,” said Panik. “I’d like to thank Sen. White for his leadership on this issue. We urge the committee to pass this bill so it can be considered on the Senate floor.”

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