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Senate considers punitive damage reform

The Missouri Senate on Wednesday debated punitive damage reform supported by Associated Industries of Missouri for five hours before setting the bill aside for another day.

SB 65, sponsored by Sen. Bill White, would make innovative changes to the way in which punitive damage claims are brought forward and the standards required to allow such damages to be awarded by courts.

Sen. Bill White

The bill was effectively blocked by Sen. Scott Sifton who filibustered and threatened to continue his filibuster on the bill as long as necessary to prevent the bill from becoming law.

According to defense attorney testimony in committee, plaintiffs’ attorneys regularly raise a threat of punitive damages, attempting to force a more lucrative settlement for their clients. Defendants wish to avoid such penalties and plaintiffs prefer to not pursue such claims because a percentage of punitive damage awards are sent to a state fund – not subject to attorney fees or benefiting their clients. A higher settlement, however, results in higher attorney fees and more for the plaintiff and may result in less financial damage for the defendant.

Sen. White pointed out he had worked with other senators to produce a product that was thoughtful and effective in its approach.

The bill remains on a calendar for future debate.

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