Skip to content

Capitol report by Rod Jetton

Legal Reforms Keep Healthcare Affordable and Accessible

You may remember that last year we worked on reforming our legal system.

We all are aware of the health care crises we have in Missouri as well as the trouble we are having keeping jobs in our state.  Reforming our legal system is probably the single best thing we can do to fix our frivolous lawsuit problem, which will help us keep access to quality healthcare and improve our state’s economy.

Last year we passed a bill but the Governor vetoed it.  This year we are working on a new bill that I feel is more to the Governor’s liking but will still help save our jobs and healthcare system.  The major points of this bill are: 

* Change of venue- requires all tort actions to be brought in the county in which the cause of action accrued.

* Joint and several liability- Repeals the joint and several liability law and provides that defendants are liable only for the percentage of the judgment that is attributed to their fault.

* Fixing the Scott Decision – Restores a single cap on non-economic damages when a plaintiff sues a medical professional.  Under the court decision, known as the Scott decision, Missouri courts now allow trial attorney’s to argue that a single wrong is actually multiple incidents thus rendering the cap useless. With the cap, injured plaintiff’s will still get all of their medical expenses and lost wages fully compensated; however, they will be capped at $350,000 for their pain and suffering.  Without the cap, the cost of healthcare will continue to skyrocket in our state.

* Emergency Room Protection- Provides that any physician, dentist, hospital, or hospital employee who renders trauma care in a trauma center shall not be liable for more than $150,000 in civil damages, except where the care amounts to gross negligence or reckless, willful, or wanton misconduct.  Health care professionals in trauma centers must make life and death decisions in a matter of seconds.  If we want to continue to have trauma centers, we cannot allow trial attorneys the freedom to second-guess every decision these professionals make. 

* Expert Witness- Requires expert witnesses to be licensed and practicing the same specialty as the defendant and to sign an affidavit swearing to their opinion and the basis for that expert opinion.

It is hard to imagine that in America we have a legal system that promotes conflict between citizens, distributed benefits to the least deserving, and created an environment hostile to job growth and quality medical care.

However, we have.  Today’s legal system encourages lawsuits and unnecessary litigation.  Additionally, too often the system rewards attorneys, not injured plaintiffs, with the majority of the benefits from a judgment.  Moreover, it stifles investment, job creation, and access to a variety of affordable health care services.  Our proposed changes will enable us to recruit good doctors who will help all of us have access to quality healthcare.  While it is critical for our nation’s leaders to act and reform our national system, it is equally important that Missouri do the same.

For years, some plaintiff’s attorneys have been using our courts and the state’s laws in an effort to increase judgments and enrich themselves.  With as much as one-third or two-thirds of the injured person’s judgment ending up in the lawyer’s pocket, the plaintiff’s attorneys have additional incentive to ensure that the awards are as large as possible.  There is little concern for restraint; in fact, many attorneys boast of their big judgments and advertise their success in weekly legal newspapers.  Big judgments have replaced fair and just as the aim of the legal game.

There are a number of problems that really need to be addressed to fix the problem entirely; however, two of the most commonly abused legal loopholes cause a great deal of the injustice.  The first, called venue shopping, allows plaintiffs’ attorneys the right to file a lawsuit almost anywhere in a state that they want.  Regardless of where the injury occurred, a skilled plaintiff’s attorney will work diligently to move the suit from the place of the injury to the City of St. Louis or Jackson County where judges and juries are far more likely to award much larger judgments.  The only solution to this problem is to require lawsuits to be filed where the accident or injury occurs, not where the plaintiff’s lawyer thinks he can make the most money.

The second most often abused rule is with regards to our system of determining fault and awarding damages.  Under current Missouri law, if a person or small business is sued and the jury or judge finds the defendant only one percent at fault, Missouri law requires that defendant to pay one hundred percent of the damages.  How can it be fair that someone who is the least to blame receives the greatest penalty?  It is not.  The best way to fix this problem is to require everyone to pay the amount of damages for which they are at fault.  For instance, if you are forty-percent at fault, you should pay forty-percent of the damages. 

You do not have to be a doctor or a small businessperson to be affected by our unjust legal system.  Everyone pays the cost of frivolous and costly litigation in the form of higher insurance costs, increased prices for goods and services, and fewer opportunities and freedoms.  Without significant and meaningful legal reform this year, Missourians will feel the effects of our out of control legal system as we continue to experience more and more doctors leaving our state, reducing their practices, and increasing their costs on their patients to cover their rapidly increasing insurance costs.  In addition, jobs that Missourians once enjoyed will continue to leave our state.  Missouri small businesses simply cannot afford full-time legal counsel to fend off ambulance chasers and late-night television trial attorneys.  Our state cannot afford much more; we need to enact legal reform this year.

“The first duty of society is justice.” -Alexander Hamilton

As always, I can be reached at 573-751-5912 in my Jefferson City office or through the mail at: Speaker Pro Tem Rod Jetton, State Capitol, Jefferson City, MO, 65102.  Also, you can reach me through email at 

Leave a Comment