Bench Memos

Missouri Tort Reform Overturned

Per the AP:

The Missouri Supreme Court has overturned a key provision in a Republican-backed “tort reform” law that limited the amount of money people could win in medical malpractice lawsuits. In a 4-3 decision Tuesday, the high court said the 2005 law violated the right to a jury trial by capping noneconomic damages in medical malpractice cases at $350,000.

The decision doesn’t come as a surprise. Critics of the Missouri Plan for selecting judges, myself included, have long argued that it allows trial lawyers to hand-pick judges, dramatically increasing the probability that the state’s jurisprudence will mirror the trial bar’s priorities.  

The trial bar’s influence appeared evident in the majority opinion’s reasoning. The dissent explained: 

“[The decision overrules] more than 20 years of [Missouri] precedent that authoritatively decided this issue. The majority opinion reflects a wholesale departure from the unequivocal law of this state and leaps into a new era of law.

In November, Missouri voters will have the opportunity to rein in this undue influence. They will be able to vote on a constitutional amendment that would shift authority away from the state’s lawyer-dominated selection commission and toward the governor. The amendment would go along way toward restoring accountability in the judicial-selection process, and, for the sake of Missouri’s legal climate, I hope it passes.

Carrie Severino is chief counsel and policy director to the Judicial Crisis Network.

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