By David A. Lieb
| September 16, 2013
Missouri lawmakers have chipped away at the ability of injury victims to win money in court cases – nixing big-dollar judgments in some lead poisoning and traffic accident cases, and shielding volunteer health care workers from all but the most egregious liability claims.
Three of the 10 vetoes overridden by the Legislature dealt with bills restricting liability lawsuits. They marked the largest philosophical success for a Republican-led Legislature that failed to enact measures cutting taxes and reinforcing gun rights.
The additional liability limits were the latest in a decade-long movement by Republican lawmakers to strengthen the legal protections for businesses and professionals against what they consider to be costly – and at times, unjustified – lawsuits. Republicans call it “tort reform” – a “tort’ being a wrongful act or injury for which someone can sue.
“We definitely had some significant tort reform bills that crossed the finish line,” House Speaker Tim Jones, R-Eureka, said after the veto session.
Some of the new liability laws, which are to take effect 30 days after the veto overrides, likely are to be challenged in court by attorneys who represent injury victims.
The Missouri Association of Trial Attorneys contends there are constitutional problems with the new law limiting punitive damages in some lead-contamination lawsuits against The Doe Run Co. and the measure barring uninsured drivers who are injured in vehicle accidents from collecting non-economic damages from insured drivers who were at fault.
Republican supporters cast both measures as a matter of fairness. Doe Run said it needs legal protections for old mining sites that it owns in order to keep the company from being sued out of business and having to lay off its 1,600 Missouri employees. The insurance industry said the measure about uninsured motorists could entice more drivers to follow existing laws requiring liability insurance.
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