Third tort reform bill heard in a busy short week in the Missouri Senate
January 22, 2021 - The Senate Government Accountability and Fiscal Oversight Committee, chaired by Sen. Lincoln Hough, heard SB 7, sponsored by Sen. Jeanie Riddle this week in the second hearing on tort issues this week.
On Tuesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee heard bills that would establish COVID liability protection and clarify court procedure reform regarding discovery and depositions enacted two years ago. Yesterday, our bill that would establish a statute of repose received a hearing.
Associated Industries of Missouri President and CEO Ray McCarty testified in support of the legislation. McCarty noted Missouri would be joining 19 other states that have a statute of repose for manufactured products. Missouri already has a statute of repose for medical devices and construction, but not for manufactured products.
Although a statute of repose is similar to, and often confused with, a statute of limitations, McCarty explained the difference.
"While the time period established for bringing a lawsuit under a statute of limitations begins on the date of the alleged harm or injury, a statute of repose begins on the date the product is purchased by the original purchaser, similar to the beginning of a warranty period for example, and applies to manufacturing defects," said McCarty.
Senator Riddle had this to say about her bill: "We cannot expect products in our everyday lives to last forever. As a result, I do not believe it is fair to place undue expectations on our state’s manufacturers and small businesses. Many of the states surrounding Missouri have similar protections, most of which limit claims to 10 years or less. I believe a reasonable statute of repose is something that must be added to our laws if we expect Missouri to remain an attractive place for manufacturers to do business. To be clear, this legislation provides no protections to companies that are negligent or purposely hide defective products."
McCarty said because Missouri does not have a statute of repose, manufacturers are sometimes sued for alleged manufacturing defects after the product has been used without incident for decades. Although manufacturers may win such cases, legal costs are high and may result in settlements with opportunistic attorneys to avoid legal fees that may be more than such settlements.
McCarty noted that while most other states have a statute of repose that is 10 years or less, the statute of repose in SB 7 would be 15 years, meaning a lawsuit must be brought within 15 years of the date of purchase, with many exceptions. Products that are warrantied for longer than 15 years, products associated with latent diseases, and products that have a "useful life" longer than 15 years would have a longer period to bring lawsuits. McCarty said his members wanted to work with the sponsor and committee members on the "useful life" language to narrow its application. He cited an example of mining interests that mine rock, or concrete manufacturers, farm machinery and equipment manufacturers and others that make products that are intended to last a very long time and the desire to provide protection for those products as well.
"We are likely sitting on concrete that was manufactured a century ago, so it is still within its useful life," he said, speaking of the Missouri Capitol building. Nearly all manufacturing defects will normally show up within 15 years, he testified.
The bill was supported by Associated Industries of Missouri, the Missouri Civil Justice Reform Coalition, Missouri Retailers Association, and the state chamber. The only opposition was from the Missouri Association of Trial Attorneys, a group representing plaintiffs' attorneys that regularly opposes tort reform bills.
No action was taken at the hearing, although the early hearing is a good sign that action will be taken on the bill this session. McCarty thanked sponsoring Senator Jeanie Riddle for sticking with the bill for many years.