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Tort reform measures from McGaugh and Corlew passed out of House

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – The passage and signing of right-to-work into law overshadowed almost everything else occurring in the Capitol. However, House Republicans also passed two important tort reform measures last week previously stymied in other years by Gov. Jay Nixon.

Rep. Joe Don McGaugh’s collateral source rule bill and Rep. Kevin Corlew’s expert witness standard bill both made it through the House last week. Both bills have been the early focus of tort reform efforts by House leadership, and Speaker Todd Richardson said Thursday he was “excited” to see such fast progress on both bills.

Rep. Joe Don McGaugh
Rep. Joe Don McGaugh

McGaugh’s bill would change the way Missouri’s courts deal with evidence in injury cases regarding special damages. Under the current system, a jury can receive evidence regarding the total cost of damages charged to an injured party from plaintiffs while a defendant can offer the defendants can show what that party has received from insurance companies to make them whole. McGaugh’s bill would limit the evidence to just what the defendant presents, arguing it makes the courts more consistent and because it informs juries of the actual cost of the injury, fairer.

While the representative recognized Gov. Eric Greitens has not explicitly mentioned passing a collateral source rule change, McGaugh said his bill was a major part of the tort reform changes the governor has pursued to promote economic development in the state.

“We continue to see reports coming out of not only St. Louis, but all the state of Missouri, that employers are looking at the tort environment in the state,” McGaugh said. “This is a small step to equalize the courts to make it fair not only for plaintiffs but defendants. It’s a common sense approach.”

While McGaugh says the bill is designed to prevent plaintiffs from earning a windfall, opponents say the bill would just transfer the windfall to those who incurred the damages instead.

The Senate has already passed identical legislation. Sen. Ed Emery’s collateral source bill has been second read in the House, and McGaugh carried Emery’s bill in the House last year. As with Sen. Dan Brown’s right-to-work bill, Emery’s Senate bill will likely be the one to reach Greitens’ desk to avoid any procedural pitfalls with McGaugh’s bill in the upper chamber.

However, Corlew’s bill to adopt the Daubert expert witness standards could end up being the version to reach Greitens’ desk as Libla’s like bill has yet to make it out of committee. Corlew says his bill would bring a set standard to all of Missouri’s courts as opposed to Missouri’s current standard for expert testimony.

“This is a good step to make sure convictions in criminal cases or judgments in civil cases that involve scientific principles are really based on reliable evidence and not upon junk science,” he said.

Assistant Minority Floor Leader Gina Mitten has served as the primary detractor of these tort case changes on the Special Committee on Litigation Reform, the committee overseeing the two bills. She believes both measures give too much power to high-power corporate defendants with more resources than the average citizen.

“I’m opposed to anything that shuts the courthouse doors to all Missourians,” she said. “Folks deserve access to our justice system and both of these bills do nothing other than to try to deny that access to my constituents and the constituents of every other person of this body.”