Changes to Punitive Damages Coming to Missouri

Last week, the Missouri legislature passed comprehensive changes to the assessment of punitive damages in Missouri. The bill, SB 591, outlines new pleading requirements, a clear burden of proof, and a heightened standard with regard to punitive damages. The bill will now head to the desk of Governor Mike Parson, who is expected to sign these new measures into law.

Procedure for Pleading Punitive Damages Altered

Under the new law, a claim for punitive damages can no longer be contained in the initial pleading. Instead, a claim for punitive damages may only be filed as a written motion with permission of the court. A written motion for punitive damages must be supported by evidence and may only be filed after the court determines that the trier of fact could reasonably conclude that the standards for an award of punitive damages have been met. A motion for punitive damages must be supported by affidavits, exhibits, or discovery materials. 

Burden of Proof and Standard for Liability Clarified

The new law also outlines a clear-cut burden of proof needed for an award of punitive damages. An award for punitive damages will only be allowed if a 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. The “clear and convincing” standard referenced is a heightened standard as compared to the “preponderance of the evidence” burden of proof ordinarily applied in civil cases.

Application of New Punitive Damages Law

The new law will apply to all cases filed on or after August 28, 2020. Only time will tell how these new changes will ultimately affect the litigation landscape in Missouri. However, the law certainly focuses on the true purpose of punitive damages—a remedy to punish a wrongdoer for egregious conduct in limited circumstances. For defendants, this new law will undoubtedly relieve some of the uncertainty and unpredictability of punitive damages and should significantly reduce a number of meritless claims for punitive damages sought in civil cases in the state.

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