The second half of Missouri’s 2018 legislative session kicks off today with Republicans planning to push tort reform – legislation designed to reduce the number of lawsuits filed in Missouri. Several bills have been introduced, including bills to: (1) reduce the statute of limitations in personal injury lawsuits, (2) impose a statute of repose in products liability lawsuits, and (3) reduce asbestos filings in the state by requiring transparency in asbestos trust claims.
SB 934 – Reducing Statute of Limitations for Personal Injury Claims from 5 to 3 Years
Missouri Senator Dan Hegeman, (R)-Cosby, has introduced SB 934 which would change the statute of limitations for personal injury claims from five years to three years. SB 934 was introduced on January 18, 2018 and the Senate Government Reform Committee voted “do pass” on February 14, 2018. SB 934 has not yet been placed on the informal calendar, but that would be the next step moving forward.
Missouri is one of only seven states with a statute of limitations that is three years or more, whereas 26 states have a two-year statute of limitations. Senator Hegeman introduced SB 934 as a tort reform action to lessen the number of lawsuits. Supporters of this bill believe it would improve the quality of evidence and decrease cases coming from other states where the statute of limitations has already passed. Those opposed to SB 934 argue that it would provide less time for out of court settlements which would increase the number of cases in courts.
SB 596 – Imposing Products Liability 10-Year Statute of Repose
Missouri Senator Jeanie Riddle, (R)-Mokane, introduced SB 596 which proposes that a person who is injured by a product must bring a suit for damages within 10 years after the sale or lease of the product. SB 596 was introduced on January 3, 2018 and has gone through a first and second reading. It is now on the informal calendar awaiting possible perfection. If a majority vote is reached after debate on the Senate floor, the bill will move along to its third reading.
Senator Riddle brought this bill because of her concern that products liability cases are draining manufacturers’ resources, which, in turn, can deter manufacturers from spending money to expand their line and employ more Missourians. Voices in support of SB 596 say Missouri’s current statute of limitations, which reads that actions must be brought within five years of the date the injury occurred or was discovered, places harm on small businesses and retailers who often did not even design or manufacture the defective product that allegedly caused the injury. In addition, supporters argue the ability to maintain legitimate evidence is upheld. Opponents argue that a negligence statute needs to be added to address situations with medical device implants or latent diseases which are often not seen until later in life. They are concerned that this bill does not advance the safety of Missouri residents.
Currently 19 states have statutes of repose for product liability claims.
HB 1645 – Reducing Asbestos Filings by Requiring Trust Claim Transparency
The House has passed HB 1645 (now in the Senate), sponsored by Rep. Bruce DeGroot, R-Chesterfield. The bill is designed to reduce asbestos filings by requiring plaintiffs, within 30 days of filing a case, to provide a sworn statement that an investigation of all potential asbestos trust claims has been conducted and that all claims which can be made have been filed. In addition, the bill requires plaintiffs to provide all parties with the filed trust claim materials. The bill imposes a continuing duty on plaintiffs to supplement this information until final resolution of the action, with failure to comply possibly resulting in sanctions. Defendants can also request a stay of the action delaying trial if information is obtained by defendants that could support additional trust claims that plaintiffs have not disclosed. Further, an asbestos case would not be set for trial until 45 days after the claimant produces the required trust filing documentation. Defendants may introduce the trust claim materials at trial to prove the bankrupt entity is a joint tortfeasor.
Kurowski Shultz Partner, Lindsay A. Dibler, provided testimony in support of HB 1645 in front of the Missouri House Special Committee on Litigation Reform in January of 2018.
A special thanks to Kurowski Shultz Law Clerk, Elizabeth Kurowski, for co-authoring this article.