JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – One of the most impactful pieces of tort reform to emerge from the General Assembly this year passed out of the House Thursday afternoon in the final leg of its journey to the governor’s desk.
Sen. Ed Emery’s SB 31, which would change the collateral source rule, was approved by representatives 98-53. The rule change will make it so parties can only introduce evidence of the actual cost of the medical care rendered, instead of the value of those costs rendered.
In most injury cases, evidence that a plaintiff or victim used health insurance, or more aptly in this case, workers’ compensation, to treat their injury is not admissible. This is done so that an employer remains liable for the full extent of the damages. Under Emery’s bill, the plaintiff will not be able to recover damages that have already been satisfied by the defendant’s insurance.
House handler Rep. Joe Don McGaugh, R-Carrollton, called the measure a “common sense” piece of legislation because it makes sense to only pay people back what the cost of their injuries were. Importantly, he added, the bill only applies to special damages, namely costs incurred from medical bills, and that there were several other types of damages – like economic and non-economic damages, pain and suffering damages, and punitive damages – that could help the injured party.
“In a civil lawsuit, there are a lot of different ways for them to decide what the case is work and how someone needs to be made whole,” McGaugh said. “The opponents always try to say that this takes away people’s day in court and seriously limits their lawsuit, all we’re talking about is special damages, which are medical bills.”
Rep. Jay Barnes, R-Jefferson City, strongly opposed the measure. He said it punished people who bought their own health insurance.
“Since before this country was founded, in a line of cases that goes back to English common law, the collateral source rule has existed,” Barnes said on the House floor. “In an injury case, the defendant doesn’t get the benefit of the fact that the patient paid for their own health insurance. When it comes to ordinary Missourians, we’re telling them their personal responsibility means nothing.”
However, Rep. Kevin Corlew said anything more than just the cost of medical bills was excessive and put substantial burden on defendants.
“The goal of tort law is to make the victim whole as best as possible,” Corlew said. “The basis of our tort system is not to punish the defendant, even if we may want to.”
The Missouri Chamber of Commerce and other business organizations have supported the legislation, and Greitens is expected to sign the legislation into law.
PHOTO/TIM BOMMEL-HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS