Missouri’s governor recently signed into law important changes which will provide for a more even playing field in personal injury actions in this state. The changes affect actions filed on or after August 28, 2020.
Several important changes were enacted to the relevant statute:
- Standard of proof: “clear and convincing evidence”
- No punitive damage award where only nominal damages are awarded
- Evidentiary burden: evidence of intentional conduct or deliberate and flagrant disregard for the safety of others
- Definition changed: punitive damages now only to punish “malicious conduct or conduct which intentionally caused damage to the plaintiff” or “deliberate and flagrant disregard for the safety of others.”
- No longer includes “willful and wanton” conduct or conduct showing “complete indifference or conscious disregard for the safety of others.”
The new version of the statute also significantly raises the bar for punitive damages against an employer:
- Plaintiff must plead and prove that employer/supervisor authorized the wrongful conduct, employer was reckless in employing an unfit agent, or employee was a manager acting in course and scope of employment
- If employer admits liability for actions of an employee in a claim for compensatory damages, discovery is limited to employment records or documents related to the employee’s qualifications
The revised statute also imposes procedural hurdles which will limit the plaintiff’s ability to utilize a punitive damage claim for unwarranted discovery purposes:
- No punitive damage claim allowed in the initial petition
- Plaintiff must seek leave to amend to add punitive damages claim at least 120 days before the pre-trial conference
- Plaintiff’s request must be supported by affidavits or other documentation which shows that reasonable juror could find clear and convincing evidence that punitive damages were justified; defense can respond with documentation defeating plaintiff’s claim. Court must rule within 45 days.
- No discovery on punitive damages until after court allows pleading to be amended
Roberts Perryman has been a leader in transportation defense for over 50 years with offices in St. Louis and Springfield, MO and Belleville, IL.