Rep. Byrd introduces tort reform

Karena Wells

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Tort reform has become a buzz word at the Missouri state capitol and March 2, the House began hearing Bill 1304 that could change tort actions in the state.

“I saw that the system was out of balance,” said Rep. Richard G. Byrd (R-Kirkwood). “In my 20 years experience as an attorney, I can attest that the system works better when the system is balanced and everyone gets a shot.”

Byrd said when an accident happens, people are held accountable, unfortunately, sometimes in excess.

Byrd said, each year millions of dollars are paid out by insurance companies because of accidents that occur on the road, in hospitals and in the workplace. Insurance claims in the state have resulted in large sums of money being given to cases where there is no real cause.

Physicians have moved their practices out of Missouri because of the high rates on insurance they must carry.

“I have a friend that is a physician,” said Rep. Jack Jackson (R-St. Charles). “He said he has to carry insurance on babies he delivers until they are 23. I don’t even carry insurance on my kids that long.”

Other aspects of the bill include where a case can be heard. In previous years, a change of venue has resulted in an increase in the amount paid in claims.

Rep. Bryan Pratt (R-Blue Springs) introduced an amendment to the bill that would decrease the percentage of interest paid out in claims from 9 percent to a sum comparable to a two-year certificate of deposit.

“Right now you cannot get a nine percent interest rate anywhere,” Pratt said. “Why shouldn’t the interest paid be reflective of the current economic climate?”

The new fluctuating interest rate was not agreed upon by members of both sides .

Democrats argued the interest rate would prevent insurance companies from quickly settling claims. They also argued that as the economy improves, rates will increase, but plaintiffs will be locked in at low rates.

Another amendment was introduced, that would place a cap on the amount of non-economic wages paid out in a claim. The cap amount would be $350,000.

“You are placing a price tag on human life,” said Rep. Kathy Jolly (D-Kansas City).

Representatives from Southwest Missouri were in favor of the bill.

“There is no way to put a dollar figure on human life,” said Rep. Bryan Stevenson (R-Webb City).

“However we can concentrate on guaranteeing there will be a doctor in the emergency room when you need them.”

“Lawyers are taking advantage of people,” said Rep. Ron Richard (R-Joplin). “The pendulum has swung to far and now we have to bring it back.”

“It has definitely got out of control,” said Rep. Marilyn Ruestman (R-Joplin). “Right now when you file a lawsuit it is like you won the lottery.”

House Bill 1304 did not come to a vote but representatives hope to have an answer by next week.