New bills are being introduced in Missouri by Republicans to rein in “an out-of-control civil litigation system that hurts the state’s business landscape.” One bill, sponsored by Sen. Gary Romine, would make it more difficult for people to “sue businesses for racial discrimination,” effectively improving “Missouri’s legal climate.” Another piece of legislation would “put new limits on malpractice suits against veterinarians.” Unfortunately, all of this will make it harder for consumers to file consumer protection lawsuits.
So why all the changes? Well, according to Missouri Republicans, they’re trying to protect businesses from what they deem as “frivolous.” It’s no secret that Republicans are notoriously pro-business, so they’re attempting to make the playing field more business friendly. According to them, “frivolous lawsuits” are expensive and “create costs not just to individual defendants but to Missouri’s entire business climate.”
Considering the power Republicans wield now, many were expecting a few changes. However, some weren’t expecting the changes to be so ambitious. As Sen. Scott Sifton, D-Affton said, “this has been one of the most ambitious agendas we’ve ever seen to limit access to the courts.” He has since joined his Democrat colleagues in arguing that the Republican plans could “infringe on the rights of injured plaintiffs who have legitimate complaints against businesses.” Jay Benson, president of the Missouri Association of Trial Attorneys, even said “this is all being presented with the suggestion that our tort system is bad for business. It’s not bad for business; it’s bad for bad business.” He added, “the civil justice system is designed to hold people accountable when they do bad things.”
The new Republican bills also have people concerned because the bills seem like they’re designed with an ulterior purpose in mind — to protect and benefit the very legislators who wrote and proposed the bills. For example, Sen. Romine runs a rent-to-own furniture business that has a history of racial discrimination lawsuits, while the legislation setting limits on malpractice suits against veterinarians was proposed by a veterinarian. Can you spot the conflict of interest here? I can, and so can many others.
As Dave Robertson, a political scientist at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, said, “this kind of legislation just adds to the perception that legislators are benefiting themselves and using government to do it.” He added, “it’s fair to be concerned about the tort system, but the very specific benefits connected to the individual lawmakers really add the perception of corruption.”
Additionally, many critics are worried the new bills will “prohibit consumer-protection class-action suits.” As the law stands right now in regards to workplace discrimination, if an employee is fired and experienced discrimination in their job, they can “invoke the state’s anti-discrimination laws if discrimination was a contributing factor in the firing, even if it wasn’t the only factor.” One of the new bills, specifically Romine’s legislation, would change the law. How? Well, “to win a discrimination case, the plaintiff would have to show that discrimination was the primary cause of his firing and not just a contributing factor.”
It’s no wonder so many are concerned about these new bills, because they effectively place businesses before consumers.