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Local lawmakers vote for tort reform bill

JEFFERSON CITY – The Missouri House of Representatives approved House Bill 393 on Wednesday, sending a bill that will change the way civil lawsuits are handled to Governor Matt Blunt.

While State Rep. Brad Robinson, 107th District, D-Bonne Terre voted against the bill initially the first time it went through the Missouri House, he voted in favor of it the second time.

“The language in this legislation is better than the original version that I voted against,” Robinson said. “My reason for voting no the first time was to send a message to the Senate, and get a better version of legislation. Without the changes, it just wasn’t a fair bill. This bill should bring relief to the Missouri doctors and health care providers while providing affordable health care to Missourians.”

Robinson said the bill allows patients to seek justice in a court of law when negligence has occurred, but will stop the frivolous court cases in the state.

State Rep. Steven Tilley, 106th District, R-Perryville, voted in favor of the legislation both times it went through the House.

“We needed common sense legal reform,” Tilley said. “This legislation protects our health care providers and small businesses from frivolous lawsuits. This was one of the top issues that I campaigned on.”

The bill requires that lawsuits be filed in the counties where the injuries occurred and virtually eliminates venue shopping.

The bill requires shared liability only for defendants found to be at least 51 percent at fault and only for actual, not punitive damages.

The bill also puts caps on money awarded by juries. Punitive damages are capped at $500,000 or five times the actual damages, whichever is greater. Noneconomic damages, such as pain and suffering are set at $350,000.

One concern was that just because tort reform legislation was passed, that didn’t necessarily automatically decrease medical malpractice insurance for health care providers.

Tilley said during committee hearings that insurance companies testified that the legislation would decrease insurance premiums.

Robinson said that if rates do not decrease, he would push and argue to revisit the legislative reform.

The bill will now go before Blunt to either get signed into law or be vetoed.

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