• AIM Team

Omnibus tort reform bill perfected in House

April 15, 2021 - This week, the Missouri House amended HB 922, filed by Rep. Dan Houx, to include many parts of our top priority tort reform legislative agenda.

Currently, actions for personal injury must be brought within five years from the date the injury occurred. This bill reduces the time frame to two years from when the injury occurred. A similar bill, SB 3, sponsored by Sen. Dan Hegeman, was debated at length and eventually stalled by plaintiffs' attorneys and like-minded senators in the Missouri Senate Tuesday night and Wednesday morning (see related article here).

The bill also clarifies the admissibility of evidence of actual costs in civil actions. The bill clarifies that no party may introduce evidence of the amount billed for medical treatment if the amount has been discounted, written-off, or satisfied by payment of an amount less than the amount billed. Plaintiffs' attorneys often exploit a loophole in current law that allows inflation of these actual costs to increase the amount they recover for clients, which in turn increases the amount they receive for representing the plaintiffs.

New provisions requiring disclosure of the availability of settlements from one of several asbestos trust funds would also be required when a plaintiff sues a party other than the manufacturer of asbestos. Currently, plaintiffs' attorneys game the system by filing claims against other parties first, then collecting a settlement from large trust fund accounts that were set up to pay such claims by asbestos companies.

The bill also contains the fix for the loopholes in current law which allow plaintiffs and defendant to cooperate in a lawsuit against the defendant's insurance company in personal injury cases. See additional information on the standalone bill here.

HB 922 also contains language establishing a "statute of repose" in Missouri, limiting lawsuits alleging a defective or unsafe condition of a product due to negligence in the design, manufacture, sale, or distribution of a product by requiring such lawsuits to be filed within 15 years after the sale or lease of the product, with several exceptions. The time limitation shall not apply to actions relating to real

property, actions where a person has knowingly concealed any defective or unsafe condition in a product, actions for indemnity or contribution by a defendant, when a product has a warranty that

is greater than 15 years, actions regarding negligent service or maintenance of a product, actions regarding defective or unsafe conditions of a product when the product is the subject of a

government-mandated recall, for certain products that cause respiratory or malignant disease, or to any action against a manufacturer where the harm occurred during the useful safe life of the product. Missouri is one of a few states that do not have such a limitation.

Another provision of the bill requires a plaintiff must prove that a defendant manufactured, sold, or leased the actual product that caused the injury, in any civil action for personal injury, death, or property damage caused by a product. Manufacturers, sellers, or lessors of products not identified as having been used, ingested, or encountered by an alleged injured party will not be held liable for any alleged injury. A person or any business entity that designs, but does not manufacture, a product shall not be subject to

liability for personal injury, death, or property damage caused by the manufacturer's product. This provision is sometimes referred to as "innovator liability" protection.

In an attempt to clarify previously passed tort reform legislation, the bill clarifies employees are liable to another employee for damages sustained in the workplace if the employee engaged in a willful act with intent to cause bodily injury or death. Currently, employees committing "an affirmative negligent act" may be held liable, but that term is not defined and concern exists that courts may liberally interpret the current statute.

The bill was perfected by the Missouri House and now awaits action by the House Fiscal Review Committee before it may receive a final House vote and be considered by the Senate.