Schwartz Explains Missouri Punitive Damages Reform

In an article for the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Shook Public Policy Group Co-Chair Victor Schwartz discusses the potential effects of SB 591, a Missouri bill awaiting the governor’s signature that could change punitive damage awards in the state. “The promise of the new law will only be achieved, however, if it is utilized by defense counsel and applied properly by courts,” Schwartz explains. “Defense attorneys will play a vital role in ensuring faithful compliance with the new law and curbing attempts to circumvent or limit its application in civil cases.”

“Too often the threat of large, unpredictable punitive damage awards have been used as a litigation club to force settlements unrelated to the merits of a case,” Schwartz states. The law would reserve punitive damages “for cases in which it is shown by ‘clear and convincing evidence that the defendant intentionally harmed the plaintiff without just cause or acted with a deliberate and flagrant disregard for the safety of others.’”

In addition, the law would change the procedure for pleading punitive damages and protect employers from punitive damages for acts by rouge employees. “Business defendants and their attorneys must respond to attempts by plaintiff lawyers to circumvent or dilute the intended impact of the new legislation when it takes effect at the end of August,” Schwartz concludes. “This is a critical job that defense interests must take seriously for the new law to achieve its goal of advancing justice.”