Governor signs tort reform legislation into law; hails work of state Legislature

Gov. Matt Blunt recently signed into law sweeping litigation and medical malpractice reforms designed to address the medical care crisis brewing across Missouri.

The new law will both improve Missouri-ans’ access to health care and improve the state’s business climate, according to a news release.

“The legislation I am signing today (March 29) sets a new standard in our efforts to prevent physicians from being forced from Missouri because of soaring medical malpractice costs while at the same time en-suring businesses will be able to flourish without the threat of job-killing legal awards hanging over their heads,” Blunt stated in the release. “Missourians deserve access to health care, and businesses deserve the right to create jobs. This legislation will help do both.”

Under the legislation, there will be new limits on joint and several liability, restrictions on venue shopping and new limits on punitive and non-economic damages. The law goes into effect Aug. 28.

“As promised, I have worked with the General Assembly to enact meaningful, comprehensive litigation reform in Mis-souri. I appreciate the hard work of the bill’s sponsors Sen. Delbert Scott and Rep. Richard Byrd,” Blunt said.

Under the new law, joint and several liability applies only to defendants 51 percent or more at fault, in all cases. Joint and several liability is a theory of recovery that permits a plaintiff to recover damages from multiple defendants collectively, or from each defendant individually.

In the area of venue shopping, the Mis-souri law provides that where the plaintiff was injured in Missouri, actions may only be brought in the county where the action occurred or in the county where the plaintiff was injured.

The legislation also limits an award for punitive damages to the greater of $500,000 or five times the net amount of the judgment awarded to the plaintiff against the defendant. The limits are designed to stem the growth in both the frequency and size of punitive damage awards.

Missouri’s new law limits an award for non-economic damages in medical liability cases to $350,000, irrespective of the number of defendants and there is no in-flation adjustment on the cap. Caps in the other states with limits range from $250,000 to $875,000.

The legislation includes several other provisions including limiting prejudgment and post-judgment interest to the intended Federal Funds Rate plus 3 percent for prejudgment interest and 5 percent for post-judgment interest; allows discovery of a defendant’s assets only after the trial court finds that the plaintiff will have a submissible case for punitive damages; requires a court to dismiss any medical malpractice claim where the plaintiff fails to file an appropriate affidavit from a health-care provider or the failure to use reasonable care.

The law also will limit the amount of an appeals bond to $50 million; protects against the disclosure of peer review proceedings in medical liability cases; modifies the collateral source rule to allow the actual amount of paid medical expenses to be introduced into evidence rather than the amount billed; and provides civil immunity from damages physicians who provide volunteer services; provides an “I’m Sorry” provision that makes benevolent gestures by medical providers inadmissible as evidence; and provides for periodic payments of future damages in medical liability cases.

“Today, we have addressed what was a clear crisis in our state by taking action against irresponsible and outrageous liability and lawsuit claims.” Blunt said.