This year, Missouri’s legislators have again focused on “tort reform” by passing legislation that further limits the monetary award a jury can provide to an injured person, essentially eliminates employee and whistleblower protections, and much more. In January, Governor Greitens maliciously called Missouri a “judicial hellhole.” Missouri’s leaders have worked hard to undermine our courts and our access to a trial by a jury of our peers. Lawyers have long been disliked by the Missouri legislature, and legislators have made clear that they are targeting “trial” lawyers. Though hatred for lawyers has long been “in vogue,” it is time for this hatred to end. Trial lawyers make sure people have access to the courts and force governments and businesses to act responsibly.
I am a trial lawyer, and I am proud of my profession. I lay awake many nights each week, thinking through case strategy, deeply concerned about how to best care for injured clients and the families of a loved one who was killed. I care about their ability to afford medical or funeral expenses. I carry their burdens with the hope that I can make life just a bit easier. I pray for my clients nearly every day; I even often pray for opposing counsel. I advance thousands of dollars on my clients’ cases with no guarantee of recovery. Who else not only works for their clients with no guarantee of payment but also advances their own money without guarantee that it will be paid back? I know one plaintiff’s attorney who mortgaged his home to come up with funds for his client’s case. This is an honorable profession filled with honorable people who often put their clients’ interests ahead of their own. Without plaintiffs’ attorneys, there would be no Brown v. Board of Education or Loving v. Virginia. That is, segregation would still be legal and marriage would be restricted to opposite-sex couples of the same race. And one could be fired for refusing to sleep with the boss.
There is a misconception that people are receiving enormous awards for minor injuries. Jury verdicts reveal that is just not true. Occasionally, a large verdict makes the news, and suddenly there is talk of runaway juries and astronomical awards. Until something happens to you or a family member you love, you won’t realize how difficult it is to prove a case and how difficult it is to receive adequate compensation. Large verdicts often result from egregious conduct. Compensation is rarely adequate to deal with lifelong injuries resulting in years of pain coupled with surgeries and doctors appointments, or the death of someone you love. Take, for example, the recent settlement of nearly $20 million dollars for the family of Caleb Schwab, the boy who was killed at Schlitterbahn. Caleb’s father is a representative in Kansas, which has a $250,000 cap on non-economic damages for wrongful death. The family got around the cap because Texas law likely would have applied. As Caleb’s family knows, $250,000 is not adequate compensation, but that is what the Kansas legislature has deemed that your loved one is worth.
Efforts to arbitrarily limit damages, restrict access to the courts, and eliminate protections for workers, are simply attempts to manipulate people into giving up their rights to a jury trial enshrined in the 6th and 7th Amendments to the United States Constitution. A jury of your peers should make these decisions and should not be bound by bureaucrats in Jefferson City, Topeka, or Washington, D.C., who are funded by and aim to maximize profits for the insurance industry and the business industry.