St. Louis Record

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Emery says impact of tort reform laws on joinder and seat belt use already being felt


By Dion M. Harris | Sep 12, 2019

Sen. Emery

JEFFERSON CITY – Sen. Ed Emery (R-Lamar) believes the impact from two recently enacted tort reform laws - Senate Bill 7 and SB 30 - are already being felt in Missouri. 

Both were sponsored by Emery during the 2019 legislative session and took effect on Aug. 28.

Senate Bill 7, which requires plaintiffs to have standing in the court where they plan to sue and also restricts more than one plaintiff from a joint suit, was driven by a verdict in St. Louis City Circuit Court last year where 22 women were awarded $4.7 billion on claims that Johnson & Johnson baby powder led to them being diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Many of the plaintiffs in that case were not Missouri residents.

Senate Bill 30 allows a plaintiff's failure to wear a seat belt be used as evidence of negligence in a case involving civil damages.

"That's always a question when you start changing the structure of the court system," Emery said. "I expected that it would have almost immediate effects, even prior to the Aug. 28 date, just because of the anticipation of the changes and the fact that they were based largely on a court opinion that was already, largely, in place. I think that the impact should have already been felt in large measure, in terms of how filings are being made and where files are being held."

A Feb. 13 Missouri Supreme Court ruling, which held that an out-of-town plaintiff's inclusion on a talc case was a violation of state laws that barred the use of joinder, formed the basis for the legislation.

"It immediately changed the way things were going to have to be done (with) venue," Emery said. "This really is what the law means, this really justifies venue and you can't use (joinder) to create venue. My guess is yes, it already has had its impact."

Less than 10 percent of the plaintiffs in mass tort cases being heard in St. Louis are Missouri residents, Emery argued while sponsoring SB 7. The loopholes these laws corrected now allow the Show Me State to repair its image as the nation's courtroom and immediately improve business industry morale.

The senator agreed that these changes have brought "philosophical balance" to Missouri, a state where some of its courts routinely ignored the law.

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