House moves to place limits on lawsuit alleging harm from products

  

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — A proposal limiting the time frame of when a company can be sued for a defective product that harms a Missourian is moving forward.

On Thursday, the Missouri House voted 102-50 to send Rep. Curtis Trent’s HB 186 to the Senate. Part of a slew of tort reform measures, the proposal seeks to place a 15 year limitation on retail and manufacturing product liability with exemptions for bad faith, negligent maintenance, and such.  

“The need for this is essentially the same as the need for a statute of limitations on criminal laws,” said Trent, during the perfection debate on Tuesday. “There comes a point in time when records are too old, where witnesses are no longer available, and it is very difficult — if not impossible — to determine who has really engaged in wrongful conduct and whether or not an injured that has occurred is a result of that wrongful conduct.”

Rep. Mark Ellebracht argued during perfection that the bill runs in opposition to the Seventh Amendment.

“It is not relevant to this bill,” said Trent.

“It is relevant,” responded Ellebracht. “It guarantees me my right under the Constitution of the United States of America to have to a right to a trial by jury for any civil…for any civil suit in excess of $20.”

HB 186 provides that a person who is injured by a defective or unsafe condition of a product due to negligence in the design, manufacture, sale, or distribution of a product has 15 years after the sale or lease of the product to bring a claim for damages. Expectations in the bill include knowingly concealing any defective or unsafe product condition, a product with a warranty greater than 15 years, negligent maintenance, or malignant diseases.

Trent noted that other states have a 10 year limitation on product liability, calling his 15 year proposal a “compromise.” Supporters argued the bill brings certainty for manufacturers and distributors.

Opponents said the bill only helped “corporate American,” arguing it will deny Missourians their day in court and ability to seek justice.

Several Democrats pointed to cases in past the where people didn’t know for decades after the product was on the shelf that the product was harmful. Examples given included guardrails, lead paint, asbestos, and airbags.

“This says to those manufacturers, ‘You know what? It’s okay if you want to skimp when you make your product. It’s okay. Just make sure that it lasts the 15 years and it doesn’t matter how many people you injure or how many Missourians you kill,’” said Rep. Gina Mitten.

HB 186 needs another vote by the House before moving to the Senate. A similar bill passed out of the House last year, but didn’t cross the finish line.