JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (The Center Square) – Missouri is one of 19 states with a “statute of repose” for product liability claims that sets deadlines for filing lawsuits against manufacturers.
The state’s statute of repose for filing product liability lawsuits is 12 years, but a proposed 2021 bill set to be debated on the Senate floor would extend that deadline to 15 years while also incorporating business-friendly exemptions into the statute.
After a two-hour debate this week to “perfect” the measure, the Missouri Senate moved Senate Bill 7 onto the chamber’s calendar for likely adoption soon.
SB 7, filed by Sen. Jeanie Riddle (R-Mokane) could have a significant impact on product liability claims in Missouri, which the American Tort Reform Foundation (ATRF) says is riddled with “lawsuit abuse,” ranking the St. Louis Circuit Court as the nation’s seventh-worst “judicial hellhole” in its 2020-21 Judicial Hellholes report.
SB 7 bars claims against sellers of any products unless the seller is also the manufacturer and would apply to all civil actions commenced after Aug. 28.
“I ask you to vote yes on this bill and help make Missouri a manufacturing and business-friendly state where we are able to fairly compete with so many other states in the nation,” Riddle appealed from the floor Tuesday.
SB 7 sets a statute of repose barring claims 15 years after purchase
The bill sets a statute of repose that would bar filing claims for personal injury, property damage, wrongful death, or economic loss against a manufacturer 15 years after a product or service was purchased.
The time limit would not apply if it is determined manufacturers knowingly concealed defects or negligence. Also exempt are cases involving a government-issued recall or where a product causes latent diseases.
Statutes of repose are similar to statutes of limitation but feature key differences that can vary from state to state.
Statutes of limitation govern the time in which a lawsuit may be filed after a cause of action. Every state has such statutes, which generally range from one to six years. Missourians have five years to file product liability lawsuits.
Statutes of repose timelines begin when the manufacturer took the action that led to the lawsuit, often years before a claim is filed. In addition, they do not recognize discovery rules, meaning claims are more easily dismissed.
Missouri among five states currently with a 12-year statute of repose
Of the 19 states with product liability statutes of repose, Missouri is one of five that fix it at 12 years. If SB 7 is adopted, it will join Iowa, Texas, and Wisconsin with the longest statutes of repose at 15 years.
There are significant exceptions built into the bill, including a provision that it not apply to any real property or improvement to real property.
While defective products and unsafe conditions “knowingly concealed” are not shielded from liability or the 15-year deadline, it must be proven the “knowingly concealed” actions directly resulted in the alleged damages that engendered the lawsuit, under the bill.
SB 7 also exempts claims filed after 15 years for any product other than those cited by manufacturers or sellers in written warranties or public advertisements to have an “expected useful life” exceeding 15 years. The measure cuts off those claims two years after a stated “expected useful life” expires.
An amendment proposed by Sen. Jill Schupp (D-Creve Coeur) to exempt products without clear expiration dates “to not only make things fair for the business but also fair for the consumer” will be considered when SB 7 is presented for a floor vote.
Reporting by John Haughey
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