Licensed in Missouri and Kansas

Missouri House Passes Stricter Punitive Damages Bill

The Missouri House of Representatives just passed a bill making it harder to get punitive damages in personal injury lawsuits. As a Kansas City personal injury lawyer handling plenty of cases where punitive damages are warranted, here’s how I think this will affect you, should you ever be the victim of someone’s gross negligence.

As it stands now, before this bill becomes law, punitive damages are already very difficult to get. To get them, you have to show that the business or person who hurt you showed complete indifference to or conscious disregard for the safety of others. The Missouri Court of Appeals fleshed this out in an opinion from 2006. It says:

  • “[P]unitive damages are properly submitted upon evidence that the defendant knew or had information from which he, in the exercise of ordinary care, should have known that the alleged negligent conduct created a high degree of probability of injury, and thereby showed complete indifference or conscious disregard for the safety of others.” Coon v. Am. Compressed Steel, Inc., 207 SW 3d 629, 637 (Mo. App. 2006).

The new bill requires you to show:

  • “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. No claim for punitive damages shall be based in whole or in part on harm to nonparties.”

I’ll use a recent case I handled as an example of how this could play out: A delivery driver ran into the back of my client’s stopped car because he was distracted by his phone. Now, on its face, this seems like a textbook punitive damage case. But under the new law, the driver could claim he didn’t see my client so he thought it was OK to look at his phone, and punitive damages likely would not go to the jury.

The new bill makes it nearly impossible to recover punitive damages. These damages were already hard to get and I haven’t even mentioned the many other hurdles victim’s of gross negligence in Missouri face when trying to get justice. Perhaps the residents of Missouri will have the chance of voicing their thoughts on the matter at the ballot box. Until then, many victims will go without justice.

If you’ve been the victim of someone’s negligence, we may be able to help. Contact Meyerkord, Russell & Hergott for a free consultation at (816) 867-8611.