JEFFERSON CITY - Several bills aimed at changing elements of the Missouri Merchandising Practices Act (MMPA) have been filed by the Missouri legislature.
One has passed through the Senate Government Reform Committee, which voted Tuesday to move SB 727 forward. This followed a hearing last week.
Business leaders and tort reform advocates have for some years been lobbying for changes to the MMPA, to insert a "reasonable consumer" clause, but those efforts have failed.
SB 727 "modifies provisions relating to civil actions for unlawful merchandising practices."
"A person seeking to recover damages for unlawful merchandising practices shall establish that the person acted as a reasonable consumer," according to a summary of the bill, sponsored by Sen. Tony Luetkemeyer (R-Buchanan).
It is further proposed that "the alleged unlawful act caused the person to enter into the transaction that resulted in damage, and the individual damages with sufficiently definitive and objective evidence to allow the loss to be calculated with a reasonable degree of certainty."
Supporters of changing provisions of the act argue that many of the legal actions, including those seeking class certification, border on the frivolous, with the oft cited examples including ones centering on bags of candy or other products not being the same weight as advertised.
Among those to testify before the committee were representatives of the American Tort Reform Association, which argues that the present statute was "overly broad and lends itself to abuse."
"For example, plaintiffs are not required to prove they actually suffered an injury, and it provides for excessive damages not available in other jurisdictions," ATRA President Tiger Joyce told the St. Louis Record.
"As a result, plaintiffs’ lawyers from all over the country flock to St. Louis to file their cases. This has earned St. Louis its regular, but regrettable, title of a 'Judicial Hellhole," Joyce added.
A hearing also took place into another bill proposed in the House, HB 1596, which is sponsored by Rep. Curtis Trent (R-Springfield). It states that a person injured by a product has 15 years after its sale or lease to bring a suit for damages
Jennifer Asher, whose father was one of 17 people who died in the Table Rock Lake duck boat tragedy, spoke against the bill, which will also have an impact on the MMPA.
Her lawyer told the committee that under the proposed she and others would not have been able to sue because the boat was built in 1944 and last modified in 1996.
However, Rep. Trent told the Springfield News Leader that he believe his bill would allow for suits such as Asher's, while adding that it was “unfortunate” her story was used to argue against the bill.