New Law for Punitive Damages in Missouri
Posted in Personal Injury on December 11, 2020
If you suffer injuries in an accident in Missouri, you may be eligible for certain forms of compensation. As long as you can establish the liability of the person or entity responsible for your accident, you can claim compensation for medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, and property damage, to name a few.
In cases where the person or entity responsible for your accident exhibited grossly negligent or intentionally harmful conduct, you may also be eligible for punitive damages. However, recent changes to Missouri’s laws on punitive damages will impact your ability to collect this form of compensation.
What Are Punitive Damages?
There are two types of damages in civil lawsuits: compensatory and punitive. The compensatory category contains the damages we usually think of when filing a lawsuit; the purpose of these damages is to compensate you for the losses you suffered due to your accident. These may include economic damages, or your tangible financial losses, or non-economic damages, which involve your physical and emotional pain and suffering.
The purpose of punitive damages, on the other hand, is to deter the defendant from committing the same actions that led to your injuries. Prior to August 2020 with the enactment of Senate Bill 591 (S.B. 591), courts awarded punitive damages in cases where the defendant showed a complete indifference to or conscious disregard for other people. Now, the definition of punitive damages and the procedures necessary to secure them are stricter now than in previous years.
Missouri’s New Standards for Punitive Damages
S.B. 591 changed the rules for claiming punitive damages in Missouri, which will apply to civil lawsuits filed after August 28, 2020. This rule affects three major topics: how to assert a claim for punitive damages, how to prove your right to punitive damages, and the standard to prove punitive damages in employment claims.
You can no longer assert a claim for punitive damages in your initial pleading in your case; instead, you will need to first seek leave of court. This means that you will need to receive the court’s permission before you can ask for punitive damages. The court will grant this leave if it concludes that, based on your evidence, it could reasonably conclude that you qualify for this type of compensation.
This law will also impact the standards for punitive damages. Instead of proving the defendant acted with indifference or conscious disregard, you will need to prove that the at-fault party in your claim either intentionally harmed you without just cause, or acted with a deliberate and flagrant disregard for other people.
You will need to establish these facts with clear and convincing evidence, which is a standard that was in place under previous punitive damages rules. However, S.B. 591 raises this evidentiary basis and it may become more difficult to establish your right to this compensation.
S.B. 591 also establishes a different standard for employment claims. If you are filing a lawsuit against your employer or another entity due to the actions of another employee or agent, you are eligible for punitive damages if your case meets the following criteria.
- Your employer or its managerial agent authorized the doing and manner of the negligent act.
- The at-fault employee or agent was unfit for his or her position and your employer was reckless in employing or retaining him or her.
- The at-fault party was either employed in a managerial capacity and carrying out the scope of his or her duties, or your employer or its managerial agent approved the act.
If you plan to file a lawsuit and believe you may qualify for punitive damages, speak to a Kansas City personal injury lawyer as soon as possible. Your attorney can evaluate your claim, determine the evidence necessary to prove your right to punitive damages, and build a compelling case in your favor.