SB 280 sought fair guidelines

Friday, July 25, 2003

By John Kistler

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- I am writing in response to John. L. Cook's guest column regarding Senate Bill 280. I concur the bill is being held hostage. However, we differ on who is holding it hostage. We also differ substantially in our view of the legislation's contents.

Cook writes SB 280 "sought to limit the right of injured people to recover from the people whose carelessness injures them." Cook's statement is overly broad and incomplete.

SB 280 would not have interfered with a person's right to recover damages, but rather would have established a maximum recovery level for non-economic damages. Such maximums are nearly universal in states across the nation and in federal law. In fact, Missouri has such a maximum recovery law. However, the courts have so undermined the current law as to make it useless. SB 280 simply sought to reinforce the current law and undo errant court decisions.

Cook cites several examples he believes illustrate that SB 280 limited recovery. In fact, Cook criticizes the bill for protecting the interests of "makers of defective products." Again, Cook's statements are excessively broad.

Nowhere does Cook acknowledge the legislation only applied such limitations to medical malpractice cases, nor did he acknowledge that such limitations already exist in the law.

SB 280 was passed by the General Assembly and would have benefited Missouri by requiring a reasonable relationship between the location of the injury and the court in which the case is tried. This is known as venue shopping. SB 280 prevented plaintiffs' lawyers from transferring cases to distant courts because those jurisdictions have a reputation for generous jury awards.

SB 280 also made such lawsuits more fair by restricting recovery from a defendant simply because they are the deep pockets in a lawsuit. Plaintiffs' lawyers often include businesses as defendants in a lawsuit hoping the deep pockets will be able to pay the entire judgment.

Is our current system really fair when it allows collection of 100 percent of the award from a business or entity that is only 1 percent at fault?

Finally, Cook criticizes the House majority floor leader, Jason Crowell of Cape Girardeau; the House speaker, Catherine Hanaway of Warson Woods, Mo.; and the Senate president pro tem, Peter Kinder of Cape Girardeau, for holding SB 280 hostage in order to benefit industries notorious for raising funds for Republicans.

The real essence of SB 280 -- and the efforts of Crowell, Hanaway and Kinder -- was to create a single tort system fair to both plaintiff and defendant.

If SB 280 is being held hostage, it is due to pressure from plaintiffs' lawyers. Recent news reports cite enormous donations from plaintiff's lawyers to Gov. Bob Holden's re-election campaign -- just prior to the governor's decision to veto SB 280. Those who benefit from the veto, in reality, are the lawyers who profit from bringing tort actions and the governor's re-election campaign, not the people of Missouri.

Rampant lawsuits, excessive jury awards and anti-business judicial proceedings have kept businesses out of Missouri. We applaud the efforts of Crowell, Hanaway, Kinder and the representatives and senators who supported SB 280. These elected officials are working to improve Missouri's business climate by promoting economic development and job growth. Let's keep Missouri open for business.

Jim Kistler is the director of industrial relations at Associated Industries of Missouri.

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