The bill was the top tort reform priority for Associated Industries of Missouri.
“I would like to thank the Missouri General Assembly for its passage of Senate Bill 51 and Governor Parson for signing the legislation today," said Jerry M. Hunter, Senior Counsel, Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner LLP, and Chairman of the Board of Associated Industries of Missouri. "The legislation provides much needed protection for businesses, educational institutions and not for profits against frivolous lawsuits which may be brought by plaintiffs’ lawyers. Individuals throughout the State of Missouri, including those at hospitals and other health care facilities and other providers of essential services and supplies were willing to show up each and every day and deliver necessary and needed services and supplies to their fellow Missourians. Hopefully, this legislation will provide them with much-needed protection against unnecessary and frivolous lawsuits,” he said.
"When COVID-19 first struck Missouri, health care providers, manufacturers, businesses, churches, schools, and other entities quickly altered their operations to protect public health and accommodate the needs of Missourians, and they should not be penalized for their efforts," Governor Parson said. "SB 51 will protect those who helped protect us during some of the hardest days of the pandemic, and I thank Senator Luetkemeyer, Senator White, and Representative Wiemann for getting this legislation passed to prevent these unnecessary and frivolous lawsuits."
"We worked closely with other businesses and groups through the Missouri Civil Justice Reform Coalition and are proud that we finally achieved this limited protection for Missouri businesses of all types," said Ray McCarty, president and CEO of Associated Industries of Missouri (AIM). "Much credit goes to Rich Aubuchon who led the MCJRC effort, which included coordinating meetings with legislative leaders and intense negotiations with the plaintiffs' bar. His efforts in coordinating the numerous conversations we had with legislators leading to this victory cannot be understated," said McCarty.
"Governor Parson signing SB 51 into law will provide Missouri certainty as we move forward with our economic recovery from the COVID pandemic," said Rich Aubuchon, executive director of the Missouri Civil Justice Reform Coalition. "Missouri joins over 43 other states which have taken action to protect their healthcare providers, businesses, churches and individuals from unreasonable lawsuits over COVID exposure while maintaining a balance for those who are intentionally exposed to pursue a remedy. The recent resurgence of the Delta variant proves this legislation, while not retroactive, is just as important today as it was a year ago when the Governor, House and Senate leaders started working on this issue. Hundreds of advocates played a part in the passage of SB 51. Special thanks deserve to be given to the entire Governor’s staff, House Speaker Vescovo, House Floor Leader Plocher, Sen. Luetkemeyer as Sponsor, Rep. Wiemann as House Handler and Senators Rowden, White, Emery and Schatz all of whom worked tirelessly to shape this legislation and get it passed. May we all have a better 2022 in our future."
The bill was in jeopardy with less than three weeks to go in the session when it was defeated in a House committee following tough negotiations in the Senate. AIM then publicly called on all legislators to, "put the needs of our employers and citizens ahead of political maneuvering and pass this bill." Eventually, the bill was revived and was the last bill passed by the Missouri House in the 2021 Legislative Session.
The bill passed the Senate on a vote of 20-13 with four Republican senators opposing the bill: Senators Eigel, Brattin, Moon and Wieland. Another Republican, Sen. Hoskins, joined them in voting against the emergency clause that would have made the bill effective earlier. Because the emergency clause was not passed, the Governor was in no hurry to sign the legislation as it would be effective August 28, 2021, regardless of when he signed the bill. Missouri businesses may still face risk of lawsuits from plaintiffs alleging they were exposed at any time prior to August 28, 2021, due to the failure of the emergency clause.
The bill provides protection for our brave men and women in our healthcare facilities that risked exposure to this virus to help treat those sick with the virus. These heroes, and their employers, deserve protection from frivolous lawsuits.
But the bill also provides protection for manufacturers who answered Governor Parson's call to shift production away from their normal products to start making critical personal protective equipment (PPE). We anticipate clever plaintiffs' lawyers will try to file lawsuits against people that used these products and caught COVID.
We also anticipate these lawyers will file suits alleging a business didn't do enough to protect employees and/or customers while on their premises. The bill will protect those businesses that have taken, and continue to take, appropriate steps to protect their employees and customers from such frivolous lawsuits.
"We are pleased this bill provides protection for responsible business owners that are taking appropriate precautions to protect employees, customers and visitors from lawsuits brought by those attempting to profit from this disease," McCarty said. "The bill also provides protection for manufacturers that responded to government leaders' calls to shift production to making personal protective equipment (PPE) from such lawsuits. Their good deeds should not be punished."
While most legal experts believe it will be difficult or impossible to prove something a business manufactured was at fault, anyone who has paid attention to some of the crazy arguments made in St. Louis courts and watched with horror as juries render ridiculous verdicts against businesses knows this is something we must take very seriously! The same goes for those claiming they were exposed to COVID at any particular location over another - it will be impossible to pinpoint where a person acquired the disease. But we know these plaintiffs' lawyers make their money on the backs of our businesses using these flimsy arguments. This bill will help stop these lawsuits before they begin.
The bill will be effective August 28, 2021.