Missouri senators are working hard to strip Missouri citizens of their individual rights and protect large corporations that make products that hurt and kill people. Why? Hefty campaign donations, according to a recent column by St. Louis reporter Tony Messenger.
Missouri senators are rushing to pass numerous bills under the guise of “tort reform” that protect corporations from being sued by citizens who are injured or killed by their defective products.
Senate Bill 596, sponsored by Sen. Jeanie Riddle, R-Mokane, is part of the Republican majority’s agenda to protect corporations at the expense of individuals’ access to courts. The bill would create a “statute of repose” for personal injury lawsuits in Missouri, placing a 10-year limit on claims involving defective products.
As Messenger’s column points out, the 10-year limit is arbitrary. When a plaintiff—one of our clients—sues a manufacturer or company, the plaintiff must prove the product was defective on the day it was made, no matter how old it is. So, for example, if a vehicle is 15 years-old, an individual cannot sue on the grounds that the product started to fail because of age.
Missouri lawmakers, like Riddle, want voters to believe that tort reform eliminates what they call “frivolous lawsuits.” They want Missouri residents to believe that lawsuits drive up the cost of business and force companies to locate their businesses in other states. They’ll use words like “frivolous” and “common sense” as propaganda to shape public opinion, but in reality those words have no absolutely no merit other than to push the agendas of their wealthy donors.
In fact, statistics show Americans are filing far fewer lawsuits. “Fewer than two in 1,000 people– the alleged victims of inattentive motorists, medical malpractice, faulty products and other civil wrongs – filed tort lawsuits in 2015” (The Wall Street Journal).
Tort lawsuits – lawsuits based on injuries or death due to a defective product or negligence – total less than 5 percent of all civil court filings. Contract cases – like those for debt collection and foreclosure – account for more than half of all lawsuits pending. Other cases are unfounded attempts at bullying or silencing opposition.
Corporate-funded special interest groups such as the American Tort Reform Association (ATRA) keep peddling the lie that “there are too many lawsuits in the country.” They ignore the truth and use sensational attacks to convince the public to surrender our constitutional right to civil justice and trial by jury, all in the name of protecting corporations that hurt innocent people.
According to Messenger, State Sen. Rob Schaaf, a St. Joseph Republican, tried last week to share a spreadsheet with his colleagues that explains who is behind various bills to protect corporations at the expense of Missouri residents. The spreadsheet showed a total of $3 million dollars’ worth of campaign donations made by corporations and business owners who were facing lawsuits under Missouri’s Merchandising Practices Act.
For example, “Senate Bill 546, sponsored by Sen. Brian Muzlinger, R-Williamstown, would make it harder for residents to file class-action lawsuits against companies over defective products that harm large numbers of people.” Messenger says one of the Republican party’s biggest Missouri donors, Tamko Roofing owner David Humphreys, has pushed this bill for a few years. According to Shaaf’s spreadsheet, Humphries and his family have donated more than $1.5 million to Missouri senators.
“This is a case study in wealthy special interests buying favor through campaign contributions to the detriment of people’s liberty,” Schaaf says.
Missourians Pay the Price
Our law firm represents people who have been catastrophically injured or lost loved ones due to defective products and other instances of negligence. The right to seek justice in a court of law is their only hope—their only recourse—as they face of a lifetime of medical bills, lost wages and loss of the life they once knew.
Take for example Brett Adams. His 16-year old daughter was killed when the vehicle she was riding in collided with a defective guardrail that pierced her vehicle like a spear. The manufacturer of the guardrail, Texas-based Trinity Industries, made design changes to its guardrails in 2005 without informing the federal government and state departments of transportation, as required by federal law.
The design changes were strictly meant to increase profits for Trinity Industries and reduce competition. The company made these changes without any engineering analysis or testing, a clear violation of industry standards and good manufacturing practice. What resulted from the design changes are defective guardrails that can lock up on impact, turn into spears and cut right though vehicles, severely injuring and killing vehicle occupants.
If SB 596 passes, Mr. Adams will have no legal recourse, no rights to sue the manufacturer of the guardrail because, like most guardrails on Missouri highways, the product is more than 10 years old. Unfortunately, these deadly guardrails have caused other injuries and deaths and more will occur. If this bill passes, corporations who cut corners and sell defective products will win, and Missouri victims who are paralyzed or orphaned will lose and have no recourse.