Tort reform legislation filed in Missouri following massive talc verdicts

By John Breslin, American Pharmacy News | Dec 19, 2016

Legislators in Missouri will move in the next session to bring the state into line with most of the rest of the country by heightening the standard on expert witness testimony in civil trials.

A bill was pre-filed in the Missouri House of Representatives that would give judges more power to make an assessment of an expert’s scientific testimony and decide whether a jury should hear from the witness. It will effectively introduce the Daubert standard into courts in the state, and Rep. Kevin Corlew (R-Kansas City), who pre-filed HB 153, is confident it will become law, particularly following the election of a Republican governor.

Republican lawmakers want to move quickly after three jury verdicts this year against Johnson and Johnson over claims that its talc-based products caused ovarian cancer. Juries in St. Louis awarded the plaintiffs a total of $197 million.

Corlew said 40 states have a higher bar before allowing testimony from expert witnesses.

The bill “gives the judge the responsibility to be a gate keeper not only to determine whether the expert is qualified,” but also lays out the standard under which the testimony is allowed, that it is based on sufficient facts or data, and that it is the product of reliable principles and methods, he said.

A similar bill passed both the House and Senate earlier this year, but was vetoed by Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon.

“I expect the legislation to go through,” said Corlew, with his confidence boosted by the election of Eric Greitens as governor and Mike Parsons as lieutenant governor. Parsons was the lead sponsor in the state Senate of the bill  this year.that Nixon vetoed.

The higher standard is needed, Corlew said, because a jury puts “a lot of stock” into what is said by someone presented to them as an expert but who may not be sufficiently in the facts, data and science. “Overall, we want to see fairness to corporations," he said, “but we do not want to be anti-plaintiff state.”

House Speaker Todd Richardson (R-Poplar Bluff) will support the legislation because he believes the trend developing in Missouri is disturbing. The state “has now become the number one destination for plaintiffs from all around the country who know their best chance to win an enormous verdict is right here in the Show-Me State. In fact, St. Louis was just named the No. 1 ‘judicial hellhole’ in the country and labeled as a magnet for product liability lawsuits and consumer class actions,” he said.

The “judicial hellhole” list is published by the American Tort Reform Foundation.

Missouri was also ranked in the Bottom 10 states (42nd out of 50) for lawsuit climate, according to a recent Harris Poll survey of corporate attorneys conducted for the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform.

“It’s clear we need to enact reforms that will put a stop to Missouri’s dubious distinction as the place to go for quick trials and big awards.” the speaker said.

He added that the legislature will look at a comprehensive tort reform package that will include expert witness standards to ensure verdicts are based on accurate facts and data, as well as collateral source reform to ensure plaintiffs are compensated for the actual cost of their medical payments.

“We will look at these and any other necessary reforms to ensure our legal system is fair to both plaintiffs and defendants, and to end our state’s reputation as a haven for frivolous lawsuits,” Richardson said.

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