New Limits on Punitive Damages in Missouri

May 18, 2020 Advisory

Missouri’s General Assembly gave final approval to Senate Bill 591 last week, sending the bill to Governor Parson’s desk all but assuring it will become law. The legislation creates new procedures for civil litigants seeking punitive damages and imposes stricter standards in medical malpractice cases especially. The law also amends the Missouri Merchandising Practices Act (MMPA) by providing clearer definitions and more stringent evidentiary requirements. According to the bill’s sponsor, S.B. 591 is intended to target abusive practices and prevent punitive damage claims from being used as leverage to force larger settlements in cases where they are not justified. 

Punitive Damages and Pre-trial Procedure:

S.B. 591 prohibits plaintiffs requesting punitive damages in their initial pleadings. Rather, plaintiffs must now seek leave of court to assert such a claim. Courts, in turn, must critically assess any requests to assert punitive damages, evaluating the evidence to determine whether a jury could reasonably conclude, based on clear and convincing evidence, that a defendant “intentionally harmed the plaintiff without just cause or acted with a deliberate and flagrant disregard for the safety of others.” Given the new “clear and convincing evidence” standard, courts must conduct fact-intensive analysis, likely following extensive factual and expert discovery, and defendants must receive an opportunity to fully brief and argue factual and legal issues related to punitive damages claims. No longer will a plaintiff’s basic factual pleadings alone support a claim for punitive damages.

Medical Malpractice Cases:

In the medical malpractice context, S.B. 591 resolves a critical issue resulting from recent Court of Appeals decisions that rendered “conscious disregard” equivalent to “intentional” or “malicious” conduct. S.B. 591 eliminates negligence as a basis to award punitive damages, amending sections 538.205 and 538.210 of the Missouri statutes to ensure punitive damages are limited to only “malicious misconduct or conduct that intentionally caused damage to the plaintiff.” The legislature further specifically noted that evidence of negligence including “indifference to or conscious disregard for the safety of others” would no longer support a claim for punitive damages. 

MMPA Claims:

Prior to S.B. 591, ambiguities in the text of the MMPA led plaintiffs to routinely seek punitive damages for alleged MMPA violations in personal injury suits. S.B. 591 now requires plaintiffs to prove they relied on an untrue statement, acted reasonably, and suffered objectively verifiable damages. The amendments also modify MMPA class actions by requiring all class members to show how their damages were caused by the practice at issue, and any award for attorneys’ fees must bear a reasonable relationship to the amount of the judgment.

Employer-Employee Cases:

S.B. 591 also limits the imposition of punitive damages against an employer based on the acts of an employee. Plaintiffs must at least establish the employee was unfit to perform their job, or that the employer somehow knew of or authorized the employee’s actions. 

Effect of Changes:

The changes resulting from S.B. 591’s passage should prove a sea change in how punitive damages claims are pled, evaluated and resolved in negligence and MMPA actions, with particular dramatic effect on medical malpractice claims. Moving forward, defendants should include references to the new statute’s provisions in affirmative defenses, undertake an assessment of potential retroactive application of the new law to existing cases involving punitive claims, ensure discovery is tailored to address future requests for leave to add punitive damages claims as cases develop, and move promptly to strike punitive damages claims that are not in compliance with the procedural dictates of the new law.

Contact Us
  • Worldwide
  • Boston, MA
  • Chicago, IL
  • Denver, CO
  • Dublin, Ireland
  • Edwardsville, IL
  • Jefferson City, MO
  • Kansas City, MO
  • Las Vegas, NV
  • London, England
  • Miami, FL
  • New York, NY
  • Orange County, CA
  • Philadelphia, PA
  • Princeton, NJ
  • Salt Lake City, UT
  • St. Louis, MO
  • Washington, D.C.
  • Wilmington, DE
abstract image of world map
Boston, MA
800 Boylston St.
30th Floor
Boston, MA 02199
Google Maps
Boston, Massachusetts
Chicago, IL
100 North Riverside Plaza
Suite 1500
Chicago, IL 60606-1520
Google Maps
Chicago, Illinois
Denver, CO
4643 S. Ulster St.
Suite 800
Denver, CO 80237
Google Maps
Denver, Colorado
Dublin, Ireland
Fitzwilliam Hall, Fitzwilliam Place
Dublin 2, Ireland
Google Maps
Edwardsville, IL
115 N. Second St.
Edwardsville, IL 62025
Google Maps
Edwardsville, Illinois
Jefferson City, MO
101 E. High St.
First Floor
Jefferson City, MO 65101
Google Maps
Jefferson City, Missouri
Kansas City, MO
2345 Grand Blvd.
Suite 1500
Kansas City, MO 64108
Google Maps
Kansas City, Missouri
Las Vegas, NV
7160 Rafael Rivera Way
Suite 320
Las Vegas, NV 89113
Google Maps
Las Vegas, Nevada
London, England
Royal College of Surgeons of England
38-43 Lincoln’s Inn Fields
London, WC2A 3PE
Google Maps
Miami, FL
355 Alhambra Circle
Suite 1200
Coral Gables, FL 33134
Google Maps
Photo of Miami, Florida
New York, NY
7 Times Square, 44th Floor
New York, NY 10036
Google Maps
New York City skyline
Orange County, CA
19800 MacArthur Boulevard
Suite 300
Irvine, CA 92612
Google Maps
Philadelphia, PA
2005 Market Street
29th Floor, One Commerce Square
Philadelphia, PA 19103
Google Maps
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Princeton, NJ
100 Overlook Center
Second Floor
Princeton, NJ 08540
Google Maps
Princeton, New Jersey
Salt Lake City, UT
222 South Main St.
Suite 1830
Salt Lake City, UT 84101
Google Maps
Salt Lake City, Utah
St. Louis, MO
7700 Forsyth Blvd.
Suite 1800
St. Louis, MO 63105
Google Maps
St. Louis, Missouri
Washington, D.C.
1717 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Suite 400
Washington, DC 20006
Google Maps
Photo of Washington, D.C. with the Capitol in the foreground and Washington Monument in the background.
Wilmington, DE
1007 North Market Street
Wilmington, DE 19801
Google Maps
Wilmington, Delaware