Improving Missouri’s Judicial System
With only two weeks left until the end of the 2016 session, the fervor to pass legislation before the gavel falls on May 13 is intensifying. One of the goals this year is to reform the state’s judicial system. To this end, the Legislature has passed and delivered two pieces of legislation to the governor’s desk this session that are common-sense approaches towards improving the legal climate.
Senate Bill 591 will modify provisions relating to expert witnesses. Missouri is ranked “4th worst judicial hellhole” in the country by the American Tort Reform Association partly due to the lack of the Daubert Standard. Simply put, the Daubert Standard helps ensure that only those individuals who are truly expert witnesses may provide expert testimony in court proceedings. Missouri is one of only 10 states that has not adopted a process similar to the Daubert Standard.
Expert witnesses have the ability to significantly influence the outcome of court cases. If we align our outdated expert witness testimony standard to the federal standard, we will improve the business climate and safeguard the reliability of expert testimony. This reasonable basic standard ensures that judges act as gatekeepers so juries are given the most reliable, factual evidence on which to base their decisions. The bill also clarifies our current standard and adds certainty and consistency.
Juries don’t always see the actual cost plaintiffs pay for medical services, they only interpret the “value” and in return grant “phantom damages,” which can be erroneously inflated. A second reform bill, Senate Bill 847, will modify provisions relating to the collateral source rule and provide that parties may introduce evidence of the actual cost, rather than the subjective value of the medical care rendered.
In 2005, the Missouri General Assembly passed a comprehensive tort reform bill. One provision in the 2005 legislation was to recover the actual cost, not the value. Since then, the courts have misinterpreted the intent of that provision and the definition of “value.” Senate Bill 847 clarifies the law passed in 2005 and returns the statute to its intended purpose by adding the definition of “actual cost.” This bill will restore fairness to personal injury litigation and help reduce the cost of insurance for doctors and businesses.
As always, I encourage my constituents to contact me throughout the year with comments, questions or suggestions by calling my office at (573) 751-5713. To find more information about the bills I sponsor, visit www.senate.mo.gov/brown. Thank you for reading this and for your participation in state government.