Two bills join Missouri’s urgent tort reform effort

Continuing their work to restore a pro-physician climate to Missouri, Senate lawmakers held additional hearings on improving the state’s medical malpractice statutes.

This week, Sen. Bob Dixon, R-Springfield, presented a pair of bills intended to change evidence standards in medical malpractice suits as well as place limits on punitive damages.

Sen. Dixon’s Senate Bill 583 would require that medical malpractice plaintiffs provide “clear and convincing” evidence in order to claim noneconomic damages. The current standard is for plaintiffs to provide a “preponderance” of evidence.

Sen. Dixon also presented Senate Bill 585, which limits punitive damages to $500,000 or five times the judgment awarded to the plaintiff.

The bills were heard in the Senate Judiciary Committee, which did not vote on either proposal. The Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry supports the measures.

“Without reasonable caps on medical malpractice and tort judgments, Missouri can expect to see rising malpractice insurance premiums which increase the cost of medical care for all Missourians,” said Jay Atkins, Missouri Chamber general counsel. “We need to make sure we are keeping costs reasonable while also protecting our doctors from expenses that make it prohibitive to practice in Missouri.”

In addition to Sen. Dixon’s proposals, a number of tort and medical malpractice bills are currently moving in the General Assembly. Among these bills is House Bill 1173, sponsored by Rep. Eric Burlison, R-Springfield, which was passed by the House and is awaiting a Senate committee hearing. Senate Bill 589, sponsored by Sen. Dan Brown, R-Rolla, is on the Senate floor calendar for further debate.

The urgency this year to tackle tort and medical malpractice statutes comes after the Missouri Supreme Court threw out the state’s previous tort reform effort, which was passed in 2005.

The Missouri Chamber will continue to monitor the progress of this legislation and work toward the passage of meaningful tort reform this session.

For more information on tort reform legislation, please contact Jay Atkins at jatkins@mochamber.com or by phone at 573-634-3511.

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House passes legislation to protect health care access and keep doctors in our state; Senate considers even broader tort reforms

The capitol was full of white-coated Missouri doctors who came to encourage lawmakers to support legislation that would protect access to health care and keep doctors in our state.  Lawmakers showed their support, by taking action on a priority of the medical community: reinstating non-economic damage caps on medical malpractice claims.

On Wednesday, the Missouri House gave final approval to House Bill 1173, legislation that creates a statutory cause of action for medical malpractice and reinstitutes the 2005 caps on non-economic damages abrogated by the Missouri Supreme Court’s decision in Watts.   The legislation, sponsored by Rep. Eric Burlison, a Republican from Springfield, is supported by the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

“We support lawmakers’ decision to protect health care access and keep doctors in our state by reinstating these reasonable caps,” said Missouri Chamber President and CEO Dan Mehan.  “We are also encouraged to see an appetite for common-sense tort reform by House leadership.”

The 2005 caps were part of a bi-partisan effort to bring stability to Missouri’s out-of-control tort system. If reasonable caps are not reinstated Missouri will again face the exact health care crisis remedied by the 2005 reforms.

Rep. Burlison’s bill would limit non-economic damage caps in medical malpractice cases to $350,000.  Non-economic damages are classified as intangible harm, such as emotional distress.  The caps would not keep a plaintiff from being compensated fully for hard costs, such as medical bills and loss of future earnings.

“From an employer standpoint, higher liability costs on health care providers means higher insurance premiums to cover employees.  Since the majority of private health care is purchased by employers, it makes sense that we would support this measure,” Mehan said.

Rep. Stanley Cox, a long-time proponent of common-sense litigation controls, shared this sentiment as he discussed the bill during debate.

“They (doctors) make decisions based on economics and if you can go 80 miles west of Sedalia and practice in a more hospitable environment, you might make that decision,” Cox said.

The Missouri Senate also held debate on medical malpractice cap legislation sponsored by Sen. Dan Brown, a Republican from Rolla.  Senate Bill 589 not only would reinstate non-economic medical malpractice caps, it would provide non-economic damage caps for all tort actions.  Another Missouri Chamber priority within SB 589 would reform joint and several liability, so that a defendant would liable for the amount of damages in direct proportion to the defendant’s percentage of fault.  Sen. Scott Sifton, an opponent of the legislation, was credited with slowing down the debate of SB 589, and the legislation was laid over without a vote.  Sen. Sifton is a Democrat from Afton.

For more information on litigation legislation, contact Jay Atkins, Missouri Chamber general counsel and director of legislative affairs, at jatkins@mochamber.com or by phone at 573-634-3511.

Missouri Chamber supports restoring medical malpractice damage caps

The Senate Small Business, Insurance and Industry Committee discussed a bill to reinstate medical malpractice caps in Missouri this week.

The committee discussed Senate Bill 589, which would re-establish legislation putting a cap on malpractice payouts. Sen. Dan Brown, R-Rolla, the sponsor of the bill, thinks the cap should be restored in order to encourage more doctors to practice in Missouri.

The Missouri Chamber was a lead proponent of sweeping tort reforms passed in 2005 that included placing medical malpractice caps.

In 2012, the Missouri Supreme Court overturned caps on malpractice payouts. The Missouri Chamber fought the overturning of the law.

“Missouri has had no cap on non-economic damages for the first time since the 1980s,” Sen. Brown testified. “A lot of doctors are opting not to do high risk procedures in Missouri. We have a lot of great medical experts in the state; we have a lot of great students in our medical schools that we are losing to other states because of this issue.”

The Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry supports this legislation.

“Non-economic damages awards, such as for pain and suffering, are highly subjective and inherently unpredictable – there is no market for pain and suffering,” the Missouri Chamber wrote in a brief.  “In recent years, a confluence of factors has led to a significant rise in the size of pain and suffering awards, creating the need for statutory upper limits to guard against excessive and unpredictable outlier awards.  Such awards may occur when juries are improperly influenced by sympathy for the plaintiff, bias against a deep-pocket defendant, or desire to punish the defendant rather than compensate the plaintiff.”

For more information about tort reform, please contact Jay Atkins, general counsel and direct of  governmental affairs for the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry at jatkins@mochamber.com or by phone at 573-634-3511.