Editorial - Governor vetoes good tort reform bill

Saturday, May 15, 2004

Gov. Bob Holden has vetoed a good bill that would have addressed major problems with jury awards and venue and offered new protection for some defendants. Now the Legislature must attempt to override the governor.

The road to tort reform is paved with good intentions, but detours and roadblocks are making any meaningful change all but impossible.

Recently, the Missouri Legislature sent a good tort-reform bill to Gov. Bob Holden that puts caps on liability in medical cases, protects some defendants who are partially at fault in tort cases and restricts where cases can be filed. Torts are wrongful acts that cause injury.

In particular, Missouri doctors have been pushing hard for tort reform to take pressure off insurers that provide malpractice coverage. Premiums for malpractice insurance have soared in recent years. Some doctors have left the medical field or have scaled back their practices to areas of medicine that are less likely to attract lawsuits.

But trial lawyers whose livelihoods depend on lawsuits seeking damages when an alleged wrong has occurred are equally insistent that limits aren't the answer. And they have won the ear of Gov. Bob Holden, who vetoed the latest tort-reform bill.

Holden said he couldn't support restrictions on where cases can be filed. Trial lawyers know where they are likely to find sympathetic juries and often find ways to file their lawsuits in those jurisdictions.

The governor also said he is against limiting the liability of individual defendants in tort cases. The changes offered by the Legislature would have protected a defendant who was liable for only a small part of a settlement but might be forced to pay the entire settlement if other defendants who are more at fault couldn't pay.

The governor and others say the real culprits in all of this are insurance companies who are using higher premiums to recoup losses in recent years, mostly attributed to sagging investments. But this ignores that in a free marketplace other insurers would step in to arbitrage unjustified high premiums. None has.

The bill the governor vetoed was a good start. Now the Legislature will have to try to muster support for an override.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: