AIM-supported punitive damages, seat belts and statute of repose bills heard in Senate
Associated Industries of Missouri President/CEO Ray McCarty testified in favor of three bills on Tuesday that would improve the legal climate in Missouri. The bills were heard in the Senate Government Reform Committee, chaired by Senator Ed Emery.
SB 30, sponsored by Senator Dan Hegeman, provides in the case of a lawsuit alleging safety devices in a passenger vehicle were inadequate or ineffective, evidence regarding use of the primary safety device in a vehicle, the seat belt, may be introduced for purposes of determining comparative fault. The law would remove a current one percent limit in reduction of an award if the judge or jury finds use of the seat belt would have reduced or mitigated damages, allowing judges and juries to determine how much such an award should be reduced, if any.
“It only makes sense to allow judges and juries to determine whether using a seat belt would have made a difference in an accident when the plaintiff is alleging the safety devices in a vehicle were not protective enough,” said McCarty, in testimony supporting the bill.
The committee next heard SB 65, sponsored by Senator Bill White, that would change the way punitive damages are considered in Missouri. Under current law, punitive damages are regularly alleged, even though the alleged conduct did not rise to an unusual level. The bill would raise that standard.
“Instead of serving as a bargaining chip for plaintiffs’ attorneys, punitive damages should be reserved for the most egregious behavior and should be used as punishment to stop really bad behavior – not as a negotiating tool to get a bigger settlement from a defendant,” said McCarty.
Finally, the committee heard SB 100, a statute of repose bill filed by Senator Jeanie Riddle. Statute of repose is similar to a statute of limitations but refers to the length of time within which a purchaser must file a claim alleging manufacturing defects after a product is purchased or “placed in the stream of commerce.”
Several witnesses testified to the need for a statute of repose in Missouri, including a manufacturer of farm equipment in Fulton, MO.
“It is unreasonable for a person to expect any item to last forever,” said McCarty. “This bill establishes a generous amount of time for a defect to surface, but puts a limit on when such a suit may be brought as there is currently no time limit. Exceptions are made in the bill for warranties longer than 15 years (the warranty period plus 2 years), diseases with a latency period longer than 15 years, and for known defects and recalled items. All other suits must be brought within 15 years. Most other states have placed the limit at 10 or 12 years,” he said.
The committee took no action on the bills, but a vote is expected soon.