JEFFERSON CITY - The top leader of Missouri's Senate urged a Senate committee to approve legislation that opponents argue would harm consumer rights.
The bill presented to the Small Business Committee Tuesday, Feb. 23, would restrict product liability lawsuits against businesses. The bill would require that a person suing prove that they used the product reasonably and prove that damages established were reasonable.
The bill is sponsored by the Senate's president pro tem -- Sen. Ron Richard, R-Joplin. He said the bill was prompted by the growing number of consumer lawsuits since 2007.
"These lawsuits have little or no impact on society and costs business millions of dollars," Richard said. "The bill attempts to deal with lawsuits before they get to court."
Jennifer Artman came to testify on the behalf of the American Tort Association, in support of the bill. Artman is an attorney and represents businesses and companies in defense of product liability and merchandising practices lawsuits.
Artman said Missouri's current law on consumer lawsuits is too broad. "This broad language tends itself to be abuse of the statute."
Artman said the bill would help curve "frivolous lawsuits" that take advantage of businesses. Artman said these lawsuits not only costs businesses, but the costs hurt consumers, taxpayers, and workers as well.
Artman said the bill would "promote consistency between Missouri law and federal law."
However, others argued the law would interfere with consumer rights.
Dale Irwin, with Missouri Association of Trial Attorneys, spoke in opposition of the bill. Irwin said the bill will "eviscerate" the state's current Merchandising Practices Act.
"I think this bill is going to take away consumer rights," Irwin stated.
Irwin said believes that law gives consumers the right to take action, but it would not apply in product liability lawsuits if this bill is passed.
"This bill resurrects the old buyer-beware language," Irwin said. "What that role of law did was say it was okay to cheat gullible people?"
The committee heard from two other attorneys in opposition and five others in favor of the bill. The committee did not take immediate action on the bill.