Missouri's legal system has become a haven for attorneys to file frivolous lawsuits in hopes of forcing healthcare providers to offer a settlement rather than pay the legal cost of a trial. HB 1304 would prohibit venue shopping, an all too common practice in Missouri's court systems. Under this practice, lawyers file lawsuits in a county that has a reputation for giving favorable judgments to plaintiffs. HB 1304 would limit the filing of lawsuits - including medical malpractice - to only the county where the action occurred. If the action in question did not occur in Missouri, then venue would be in the county where the individual defendant resides or the county where the corporation has the largest number of employees for the past two years for corporate defendants. In addition, a court must dismiss any medical malpractice claim where the plaintiff fails to file an affidavit stating that he or she has obtained the written opinion of a legally qualified health care provider which states that the defendant failed to use reasonable care and such care caused the plaintiff's damages.
Other reform measures included in this bill:
- Punitive damage award would be defined to include an award for punitive or exemplary damages as well as an award for aggravating circumstances. Discovery of a defendant's assets could only occur after the trial court finds the plaintiff would have a submissable case for punitive damages.
- The medical malpractice non-economic damage cap for all plaintiffs would be lowered from its current inflation-adjusted cap of $565,000 (adjusted from its base amount of $350,000 in 1986) to $350,000. There would be an inflation adjustment beginning Aug. 28, 2004. No plaintiff could recover more than $350,000 regardless of the number of defendants.
While much of this legislation is meant to address problems in healthcare litigation, it also attempts to correct the abuses in Missouri's legal system that have driven up the cost of consumer products, strangled businesses with unwarranted lawsuits and driven businesses out of the state. I believe this bill represents the best legislation possible in this session. A decision to veto this measure would be purely political and would be against the best interests of the people of Missouri.