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MISSOURI LEGISLATURE NIXES GOV. NIXON VETO ON TORT REFORM MEASURES

September 20, 2013

Although the battle over state income taxes between Missouri Governor Jay Nixon and the Missouri General Assembly drew national attention to this week’s Veto Session, three lesser known bills will have a more immediate impact on civil tort litigation in Missouri. On September 11, 2013, the legislature overrode the Governor’s veto on three bills that provide certain limits on tort claims against insured drivers, voluntary health care providers, and hard rock mining companies.

Uninsured Motorist Plaintiffs. House Bill 339 provides that an “uninsured motorist” waives his or her ability to seek recovery for “noneconomic loss” against an insured driver due to an auto accident in which the insured driver is at fault. The Bill defines an “uninsured motorist” to include an uninsured driver who is the owner of the vehicle, an uninsured permissive driver of the vehicle, and any uninsured nonpermissive driver.

The waiver is subject to several exceptions. For example, the waiver does not apply if the accident was caused in whole or in part by a tortfeasor who operated his or her vehicle “under the influence of drugs or alcohol”. It also does not apply if the tortfeasor is convicted of involuntary manslaughter or assault.

Cancellation of an insurance policy also can be an issue. The Bill provides that the uninsured motorist’s waiver does not apply if his or her auto liability policy was terminated or non-renewed for failure to pay premiums “unless notice of termination or nonrenewal for failure to pay such premium was provided by such insurer at least six months prior to the time of the accident.”

Voluntary Health Services. Senate Bill 129 provides immunity to certain licensed health care providers who voluntarily provide health care services within the limits of their licenses, certificates, or authorizations. Patients generally cannot seek civil damages against those providers for an “act or omission resulting from the rendering of such services”, unless the act or omission was the “result of such person’s gross deviation from the ordinary standard of care or willful misconduct”.

Punitive Damage Caps for Hard Rock Mining. House Bill 650 provides immunity from claims for punitive damages for exposure or contamination arising from the ownership, maintenance, management, or control of underground hard rock mining or hard rock milling sites that ceased operations prior to January 1, 1975. Such immunity applies to those persons, entities or related companies that “have made or are making good faith efforts to remediate such sites”. Any punitive damages still available under the Bill are capped at $2,500,000 “in the aggregate as to all defendants in a civil action within this section”. The Bill states that it does not “preclud[e] any party from pursuing compensatory damages”. This legislation commonly is thought to apply to the The Doe Run Company’s mining operations in Missouri.

All three of these Bills become effective within 30 days of the override, which would be October 11, 2013.