HB 489 Modifies provisions regarding punitive damages

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Current Bill Summary

- Prepared by Senate Research -

HB 489 - This act modifies provisions relating to punitive damages.

PUNITIVE DAMAGES - GENERAL (SECTIONS 510.258, 510.263, AND 510.265)

The act provides that punitive damages shall only be awarded if the plaintiff proves 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. Punitive damages may only be awarded against an employer due to an employee's conduct in certain situations, as provided in the act.

A claim for punitive damages shall not be contained in the initial pleading and may only be filed with leave of the court. Leave may be granted only upon a written motion by the plaintiff filed no later than 120 days prior to the trial date. The written motion must be supported by evidence tending to establish a reasonable basis upon which the trier of fact could award punitive damages. Any party opposing the claim has 30 days to file a response with evidence. The court shall grant the motion if there is a reasonable basis upon which a trier of fact could award punitive damages. If the motion is not granted within 45 days, it is deemed to be denied by the court.

Currently, in jury trials involving a claim for punitive damages there is a bifurcated trial. In the first stage, the jury determines liability and amount for compensatory damages and the liability for punitive damages, and the amount of punitive damages is determined in the second stage. This act provides that the jury shall determine only whether compensatory damages are to be awarded and the amount in the first stage. The second stage shall only be conducted if the jury determines that the defendant is liable for compensatory damages in an amount greater than zero. If such a determination is made, the jury then shall determine the liability and amount of punitive damages. Evidence of a defendant's financial condition, rather than net worth, is admissible in the second stage. Discovery of the defendant's financial condition is only allowed after the court has granted leave to file a punitive damages pleading.

Currently, if a defendant has previously paid punitive damages in another state for the same conduct, following a hearing the court may credit the jury award of punitive damages by the amount previously paid. This act provides that the defendant may be credited for punitive damages also paid in federal court. Additionally, the doctrine of additur, in which a party against whom a new trial would be granted instead may agree to an increase in the damages award, shall not apply to punitive damages.

These provisions do not apply to claims for unlawful housing practices under the Missouri Human Rights Act.

These provisions are similar to SB 65 (2019), provisions in SCS/HB 186 (2019), and SCS/SB 1102 (2018).


The act modifies the definition of "punitive damages" as it is used in sections of law relating to actions for damages against a health care provider for personal injury or death caused by the rendering of health care services.

In order to be awarded punitive damages, the jury must find by clear and convincing evidence that the health care provider intentionally harmed or demonstrated malicious misconduct. Evidence of negligence, including indifference or conscious disregard for the safety of others, does not constitute a basis for a punitive damage award.

These provisions are similar to SB 65 (2019), provisions in SCS/HB 186 (2019), SCS/SB 1102 (2018), HCS/HB 2434 (2018), HB 2273 (2018), and HCS/HB 2119 (2018).


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