Senator Ron Richard sponsors bill that would amend constitution regarding punitive damages

Senator Ron Richard, R-Joplin, has sponsored Senate Joint Resolution 7, which would aim to amend the Missouri constitution to say that no award for punitive damages would be greater than $500,000 or five times the net amount of the judgment awarded to the plaintiff against the defendant.

The Missouri Chamber is in favor of damage caps on punitive damages and has testified in favor of similar legislation in the past including medical malpractice claims.

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

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.”

The bill awaits assignment to a committee for an initial public hearing.

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

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Missouri Supreme Court delivers costly decision that takes Missouri law back nearly 200 years

The Missouri Supreme Court has gutted tort reforms passed in 2005 by overturning the $350,000 cap on medical malpractice, ruling that the caps deny citizens the right to a jury trial. The decision overturns a 20-year old decision, Adams v. Children’s Mercy Hospital, and reverses the law to standards established in 1820.

“Relying on law brought to Missouri from England nearly two centuries ago, the Missouri Supreme Court has nullified the role of the Missouri Legislature,” said Rich AuBuchon, Missouri Chamber general counsel. “The end result? Medical malpractice costs will go up. Health care costs will go up. Health insurance costs will go up. The rate of doctors leaving our state will go up. And ultimately, health care will be less attainable for Missouri citizens.”

The ruling will be a rally cry for those who seek judicial reform in our state.

“Trial attorneys have regained their hold on our health care system through the actions of their friends on the bench,” said AuBuchon. “Missouri citizens should be outraged.”

The decision stems from the case Deborah Watts v. Lester E. Cox Medical Center, which challenged a provision in the law that limits the amount of money, over and above actual medical costs, that can be awarded in medical malpractice suits. The 2005 legislation capped non-economic damages – damages from pain and suffering or mental anguish – to $350,000.

The Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry filed an amicus brief that defended the cap.

“Non-economic damages awards, such as for pain and suffering, are highly subjective and inherently unpredictable – there is no market for pain and suffering,” states the Missouri Chamber 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.”

Today’s decision has far-reaching ramifications, not only for Missouri’s health care systems, but for all Missouri employers.

According to AuBuchon, only a change to the Missouri Constitution can reverse the costly decision delivered today by the High Court. The Missouri Chamber will look into a ways to abrogate the Adams v. Children’s Mercy Hospital case in the Constitution.

“As the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) is on the federal level, today’s ruling in Missouri will be another significant cost driver on health care,” said AuBuchon. “It adds another level of uncertainty for Missouri employers struggling to provide health care benefits to their employees. One thing is certain, however: Missouri trial attorneys will be pleased with today’s decision – at health consumers’ expense.”

For more information about tort reform, please contact Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry general counsel Rich AuBuchon at raubuchon@mochamber.com or by phone at 573-634-3511.