COLUMN: Passing SB 631 would be good for small businesses

Date: April 05, 2022

NFIB State Director Brad Jones’ column on the need for tort reform originally ran in the April 3 edition of the Springfield News-Leader.
 
In December, it was reported that Missouri lawmakers had pre-filed a record number of bills for the 2022 legislation session that was to get underway on Jan. 5. 

 
So far, though, only a tiny fraction of them has come up for a vote.
 
By the time the General Assembly took a one-week breather earlier this month, it had passed what may be the least number of bills by spring break in state history. At this point, the House has passed many more bills than the Senate
 
That’s frustrating for everyone, but it’s especially discouraging for small businesses, which need the legislature’s help to get through the economic slump that began two years ago with the arrival of COVID-19 and continues with disruptions in the supply chain, sky-high gasoline prices, and soaring inflation.
 
One thing the legislature could do to help small businesses is pass Senate Bill 631, a measure that balances the scales of justice in Missouri by reducing the window for filing a claim. Currently, Missourians have five years to file a claim. SB 631 would reduce that to two years.
 
People must be allowed to seek damages if they’ve been wronged, but allowing them to wait five years to take action is completely unreasonable. Five years can be an eternity for a small business. Small businesses don’t have the resources to easily call up the documentation and other evidence and witnesses they might need to defend themselves against a claim about something that supposedly happened five years ago.
 
The threat of legal action is a constant concern for small business owners. Contrary to what trial lawyers hope, most small businesses aren’t sitting on piles of cash, and they don’t have staff attorneys to handle every frivolous claim. The truth is the cost of defending itself against even one meritless lawsuit could result in a small business closing its doors for good, even if the case is eventually thrown out of court.
 
Overreaching legal actions are of particular concern in St. Louis, which the American Tort Reform Foundation recently labeled “a perennial Judicial Hellhole” because of its “open-door policy for out-of-state plaintiffs,” willingness to accept “junk science” and a lack of consistency regarding punitive damages.
 
This isn’t just an issue for small business owners. Excessive tort costs affect everyone. 
 
According to a December study by the Texas-based Perryman Group, the total current impact of excessive tort costs on the U.S. economy includes an estimated $429.4 billion in lost output. When you break that down on a per capita basis here in Missouri, the study says, it implies a “tort tax” of over $900 per person.
 
Given the leaden pace of this year’s session, the General Assembly is unlikely to address every concern the business community has with Missouri’s courts, but passing SB 631 would give small businesses and other potential plaintiffs a fighting chance to defend themselves if they’re ever targeted by overzealous trial attorneys.
 
SB 631 is commonsense reform we believe both chambers of the General Assembly and both sides of the political aisle can agree on.

Related Content: Small Business News | Missouri

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