Missouri Introduces New Venue Statutes for Lawsuits Against Insurance Companies

On May 1, 2019, Senate Bill 7 was passed as part of the Missouri legislature’s overarching goal to refine Missouri’s broad venue rules, which previously had allowed plaintiffs to pursue their claims in Missouri venues with no connection to their injuries or events which led to their injuries.

Particular provisions of the new venue rules apply specifically to lawsuits involving claims against insurance companies. First, Sections 375.1800 and 508.010 now provide that domestic and foreign insurance companies are deemed a resident of the county where their registered offices are maintained, including for venue purposes. A foreign insurance company that does not maintain a registered office in any county in Missouri shall be deemed a resident of Cole County, Missouri. The previous version of Section 508.010 provided that corporations generally were deemed to reside where their registered agent was located. This created an anomaly for insurance companies, because unlike other corporations, insurance companies are not regulated by the Secretary of State, but by the Department of Insurance. Therefore, in determining how Section 508.010 applied to insurance companies, Missouri courts interpreted the statute to find that insurance companies were deemed to reside where an office or agent is located. With insurance companies often having offices and agents throughout Missouri, this in many cases allowed lawsuits to be filed against insurance companies in venues with no connection to the plaintiff’s or insured’s injury. Sections 375.1800 and 508.010 now clarify that insurance companies reside in locations where their registered offices are maintained.

With residency of insurance companies now defined, Sections 375.1803 and 375.1806 also clarify the proper venue for claims against an insurance company based on the type of action pursued. With the exception of uninsured or underinsured motorists claims, Section 375.1803 applies to claims in tort or contract, “regarding the rights, benefits, or duties under an insurance contract or any action arising from an insurance contract, including but not limited to claims of bad faith and refusal to settle.” In such actions, “venue shall be in the county where the insurer resides, or if the insured was a resident of Missouri at the time the insurance contract was issued, the county of the insured’s principal place of residence … at the time the insurance contract was issued.” This separates claims against insurance companies from the venue rules generally set forth in Section 508.010, which had provided that venue for contract claims against an insurer depended on the residence of the insurer, while venue for tort claims against a carrier depended on whether the plaintiff was first injured in Missouri. This was especially problematic in bad faith tort claims asserted against an insurance company, as little Missouri case law directly addressed where the plaintiff insured was first injured in that situation. Thus, Sections 375.1803 and 375.1806 effectively clarify the appropriate venue for such claims.

Finally, Section 375.1806 addresses the appropriate venue for uninsured and underinsured motorist claims. This section provides that if the accident involving the uninsured or underinsured vehicle occurred in Missouri, such claims are to be filed in the county where the accident occurred. This section further states that if the accident occurred outside of Missouri, then venue shall be either in the county where the insurer resides or the county of the insured’s principal place of residence on the date the insured first was injured, provided the insured’s principal place of residence was in Missouri on the date he or she first was injured by the accident.

The new Missouri venue statutes took effect on August 28, 2019.

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Kerri Forsythe

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