Mo. Court Cracks Down on Venue Shopping; Lawmakers Continue Push for Tort Reform

February 26, 2004

Supporters of tort reform won a victory Tuesday as the Missouri Supreme Court blocked an attempt to move a medical malpractice case to St. Louis, which is known to be a very plaintiff-friendly jurisdiction.

“Putting a stop to venue shopping is very important in gaining control of medical liability costs and is central to the debate over tort reform in Missouri,” said Joe Woods, regional manager for the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America (PCI). “St Louis’ reputation for generous settlements, which attracts plaintiff attorneys from all over the country, has earned it the classification as one of the nation’s worst ‘judicial hellholes’ by the American Tort Reform Association. While we hope this ruling will start a trend within the judicial system of reigning in efforts to venue shop, it is essential that the tort reform legislation advancing through the General Assembly be signed into law.”

Missouri’s House Judiciary Committee has approved HB 1304, which contains key tort reform measures. The bill, which is similar to legislation vetoed last year by Gov. Bob Holden, limits venue shopping by establishing the county where the cause of action occurred as being the venue for the case. It changes the cap on noneconomic damages from $350,000 adjusted annually for inflation (currently equal to $565,000), to $400,00 without an inflation adjustment, and removes the “per occurrence” language in order to overrule the Missouri Supreme Court decision in Scott v. SSM Healthcare Systems. HB 1304 provides for mandatory dismissal of a medical malpractice claim if a plaintiff fails to file the required supporting expert affidavit and establishes “like license and specialty” standards for expert witnesses. The bill also establishes that a defendant is jointly and severally liable only if the defendant is found to be 50 percent or more at fault.

“This measure ensures greater fairness in the court system by having cases heard in the appropriate venue. It will also overturn the effects of a devastating court case that created great uncertainty regarding the potential pay out in medical liability cases. Tort reform is necessary to address the state’s medical liability issues. However, despite the desire to pass an effective piece of legislation, political posturing with the primary and general elections in mind may put relief to this crisis in jeopardy,” said Woods.

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