A number of organizations representing business interests are gearing up for the upcoming Missouri legislative session with expectations that measures they favor will finally be enacted into law.
After Democratic Governor Jay Nixon successfully vetoed two civil justice bills this year, it’s widely assumed Republican Governor elect Eric Greitens will embrace such legislation.
The Missouri Chamber of Commerce strongly backed Greitens in November’s election, noting Nixon has received millions of dollars from trial attorneys, who oppose changes to current civil justice laws, after being reelected in 2012.
Another group which supported Greitens is the National Federation of Business (NFIB), which represents small businesses. It’s also calling for the state legislature to pass civil justice measures.
At least six bills to change the tort system, which allows lawsuits for wrongful acts, are set to be introduced when lawmakers return to Jefferson City next month. All of them are aimed at curbing what businesses and employers call a bias against them.
Brad Jones, the NFIB Missouri state director, says the current tort system leaves small businesses especially vulnerable. “When these small businesses get sued, whether they win the lawsuit or not, the court costs are so prohibitive, it ends up putting the business out or puts a real dent in the ability of that small business to grow.”
Jones contends small businesses are often unable to finance a defense against costly litigation such as class action suits, and can be crippled by punitive judgments. “I think small businesses are always one lawsuit away from losing their business” said Jones. “That makes them probably the most vulnerable of the business community when it comes to the civil justice system.”
Notably opposing the expected legislative tort proposals is the Missouri Association of Trial Attorneys. The group’s president, Jay Benson, contends workers and consumers would be defenseless without a strong tort system. “Punitive judgments are rare” said Benson. “They are a measure in the law that date back many, many years that are designed to deter bad doers from committing bad acts.”
Benson contends that making changes to the tort system in Missouri would leave workers and consumers with fewer protections. “The whole purpose of the tort system is to hold people accountable and to compensate those persons who are harmed, to compensate them for their harms and their losses.”
Both the Missouri Chamber and NFIB have applauded a recent annual report from the American Tort Reform Foundation that cited the City of St. Louis as No. 1 on its list of “Judicial Hellholes”. The report said the overwhelming majority of plaintiffs filing lawsuits in St. Louis are not even from Missouri, but travel to the state to take advantage of lax tort standards.