In the final hours of the 2003 Missouri legislative session lawmakers pushed through a tort reform bill reportedly designed to overturn the effects of a devastating court case that is largely responsible for sharp increases in medical liability rates in the state. However, Gov. Bob Holden has threatened to veto the bill.
“We are urging Gov. Holden to sign Senate Bill 280 in order to reinstate a meaningful cap on noneconomic damages on medical liability cases,” Ann Weber, counsel for the National Association of Independent Insurers (NAII), commented. “The bill will ensure that there is a single cap of $350,000 on noneconomic damages. The court in Scott v. SSM Healthcare held that the cap could be applied to each instance of negligence. This decision created great uncertainty regarding the potential pay out in medical liability cases. By removing the words ‘per occurrence’ the cap cannot be multiplied.”
In addition to addressing medical liability, the bill also contains a number of general tort reform provisions such as venue shopping, class action certification, and joint and several liability.
“The bill contains several general tort reform provisions that are important to insurers and consumers. The provision to eliminate venue shopping is one that the industry is particularly pleased to see. To ensure greater fairness in the court system, it is important to have cases heard in the appropriate venue. Too often lawsuits are being moved to cities that had nothing to do with the cases. Under SB 280, the venue of a case will be limited to the county where the alleged wrongdoing occurred or county where the corporation’s registered agent resides,” Weber said.
The bill will reportedly limit the current practice of joint and several liability. It provides for joint and several liability for compensatory and noneconomic damages if the defendant is found to be 10 percent or more at fault but only makes a defendant liable for their portion of fault for punitive damages.
Currently, a party can be held responsible for 100 percent of the judgment even if they were only one percent at fault. The legislation also contains a provision that creates an appeal of the party
The legislation makes orders granting or denying class certification appealable. It is expected that this appeal process will reduce the number of frivolous class action lawsuits filed each year.
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