HB 489: the great scam of Missouri

The Great Seal

R

ep. Bruce DeGroots House Bill 489 threatens to undermine the public right to use the judicial system to take on businesses that disregard public safety.

HB 489, passed by the Missouri House and now read to the Senate, would narrow the freedom Missourians have to hold a business accountable when that business harms one of us. This goes beyond the reasonable boundary of balancing public and business interests to favoring businesses over consumers.

The bill’s language creates a ludicrously high bar for pursuing the most basic punitive damages, requiring consumers to prove the business intended deliberate harm – a nearly impossible standard to attain: “Except as otherwise provided by statute, punitive damages shall not be awarded unless 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.”

If a person falls and breaks a spine on a wet floor, which the business knew about, but attended to other work first, then the injured person should be able to punish that business for negligence to make sure the business does not repeat bad behavior again and again. But the law would make attaining punitive damages iffy.

Missouri Statute 538.210, subsection 8, for now says if a health provider engages in “willful, wanton or malicious misconduct” which “injured or caused or contributed to cause the damages claimed in the petition,” then the health provider may be held accountable via an award of punitive damages. HB 489 would change the law to say if a health care provider “intentionally” harmed the plaintiff or demonstrated “malicious misconduct” which “harmed the plaintiff,” then punitive damages may be awarded. The health care provider, in other words, must intentionally mean harm. They could get a free pass by arguing, “It was an accident.”

Even worse, HB 489’s subsection goes on to state, “Evidence of negligence including, but not limited to, indifference to or conscious disregard for the safety of others shall not constitute a basis for an award of punitive damages against a health care provider.” This suggests that, if a health care provider put a person in a coma negligently, indifferently or through outright conscious disregard for patients, then those harmed could not receive punitive damages. 

Restrictions throughout the bill add up to little changes in freedom here and there – tweaks that make certain provisions for legal recourse cease to apply in certain situations.

Should the Missouri Senate pass this bill, as the House somehow did, then the General Assembly should rename the Missouri seal to The Great Scam of Missouri, given the bill would mean the government explicitly supports conscious disregard for the public’s health and safety.

Missourians should promote business and ensure a stable, ever-increasing level of economic prosperity. But not by sacrificing accountability and putting public health at risk.

DeGroot’s ferocity for business interests is admirable, but his bill’s wording crosses the threshold of freedom to wallow in the realm of oppression.

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