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Companies took a beating from Missouri appellate courts in 2014

Missouri appellate courts dealt more than one blow to businesses in 2014 with an onslaught of rulings that can be construed as pro-consumer or pro-employee.

The most consequential is a Missouri Supreme Court decision holding that the state law capping punitive damages could not be applied in the case of an elderly woman who won a fraud claim against a used car dealership.

In the Sept. 9 case of Lewellen v. Franklin, the high court reinstated the $1 million punitive damages award against the dealership, finding that the cap violated the right to a jury trial. This decision rides on the heels of the high court’s 2012 decision in Watts v. Cox Medical Centers, which tossed the state law cap on non-economic damages in medical malpractice cases.

Combine these anti-damage cap cases with the controversial, standout case from the first half of this year, Templemire v. W&M Welding, Inc., and the trend for 2014 appears to be distinctly anti-business.

In Templemire, handed down April 15, the Missouri Supreme Court increased liability for employers and lowered the burden for fired employees by replacing the “exclusive cause” standard with the “contributing factor” standard for workers’ compensation retaliation claims. Legal experts say the decision will force employers to record in detail the reasons for their actions against employees and to be consistent in their discipline.

These cases are the motivation for a first-ever “Judicial Hellhole” ranking from the American Tort Reform Association.

The ATRA listed the Missouri Supreme Court as sixth out of the seven venues it says are unfair to civil defendants. The report also cited Coomer v. Kansas City Royals, handed down in the first half of this year, in which the high court granted a new trial for a baseball fan who was hit in the eye by a hot dog thrown by a mascot.

The Missouri Supreme Court handed down 73 opinions in 2014, compared to 75 last year, 83 in 2012 and 69 in 2011.

The high court’s cases are included in this special issue, which includes the 192 major opinions of the last half of 2014. This issue also highlights the case stories that reported these decisions.

Banks beware

Further illustrating the pro-consumer trend, a pair of Missouri Supreme Court cases issued in August broadened consumer protections offered by the Missouri Merchandising Practices Act by expanding the liability of lenders in connection with real estate mortgage loans.

In the companion cases of Conway v. CitiMortgage and Watson v. Wells Fargo Home Mortgage, the court allowed homeowners to bring unfair or deceptive practices claims under the MMPA.

In Conway, the court also held that third parties that did not originate the loans but became servicers later could still be held liable. These rulings could be applied at some point to other consumer loan and collection activities.

The Conway and Watson opinions joined a decision by the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals holding that a Kansas City homeowner fighting foreclosure had stated a claim for breach of contract against the lender. The case was Topchian v. JPMorgan Chase Bank.

“Between this case and the Conway and Watson decisions, it’s been a very good couple of months for homeowners. There are now two ways to make banks accountable for wrongful foreclosures,” said John Campbell, the St. Louis attorney who represented the homeowner on appeal.

Not all doom and gloom

But it wasn’t all doom and gloom for businesses as illustrated by mixed decisions coming from Missouri appellate courts in negligence cases.

Although Coomer, mentioned above for its role in raising the ire of tort reformers, was a victory for the injured baseball-fan plaintiff, corporate defendants have held their own in personal injury actions this year.

In DeCormier v. Harley-Davidson Motor Company Group, Inc., the Missouri Supreme Court held that a plaintiff’s allegations of recklessness did not invalidate the corporate defendant’s release of liability in a case that pitted a new motorcycle rider against the motorcycle dealership and its parent company. The rider was injured on a training course during inclement weather, but the court found that the waiver was valid because she did not show a genuine dispute as to whether the defendants had acted in reckless disregard for her safety by sending her out on the course.

In the same November hand down, the Supreme Court also threw out a $225,000 jury verdict for a young girl who was injured on a water ride. In Chavez v. Cedar Fair LP, the issue was jury instructions that the defendant argued employed the wrong standard of care. The 5-2 high court majority granted a new trial, holding that the trial court judge should have used the “ordinary care” standard rather than the “highest degree of care” standard.

Insurance companies may also be coming out on the winning side of Missouri appellate decisions more often, as reported in our Aug. 11 issue after the high court’s opinion in Floyd-Tunnell v. Shelter Mutual Insurance Co.

In Floyd-Tunnell, the court ruled that the widow of a man killed in an automobile accident could not combine the full value of three uninsured motorist polices she and her husband had purchased. The decision marked the third time since last year that the court has favored the insurer.

Finally, in July, the 8th  Circuit upheld a $31.3 million verdict against an investment firm for allegedly misappropriating and using confidential research data. The verdict in favor of Hallmark Cards included $10 million in punitive damages and was the seventh-largest plaintiffs’ win of 2012 as reported by Missouri Lawyers Weekly. The case is Hallmark Cards v. Monitor Clipper Partners.

What’s next?

The Missouri Supreme Court is set to decide several hot-button issues in 2015. Gay marriage was the news-making issue that gained the most steam in 2014, with a state court in St. Louis and a federal court in Kansas City ruling that the state’s ban was unconstitutional.

At the appellate level, the Missouri Supreme Court is set to weigh in on whether two men legally married in another state can be divorced in Missouri. The court heard arguments on the case of M.S. v. D.S. on Dec. 3.  Experts say the court does not have to overturn the gay marriage ban to allow the divorce to proceed.

The high court also heard arguments this fall on whether victims of “fraudulently concealed” deaths can file a wrongful-death action after the expiration of the three-year statute of limitations. The upcoming decision should resolve a conflict from the Court of Appeals. The cases are Boland v. St. Luke’s Health System Inc. and State ex rel. Beisly v. Perigo.

The Court of Appeals also issued conflicting opinions on the issue of co-employee liability. In Peters v. Wady Industries, the Eastern District affirmed a dismissal of a worker’s negligence claim against a supervisor after the worker was injured by a falling stack of baskets. A dissenting opinion requested transfer to the high court based on the Western District’s conflicting decision in Leeper v. Asmus.

Major opinion summaries





Civil Practice

Civil Rights


Consumer Law



Criminal Law

Domestic Relations

Driver’s License


Employer – Employee


Intellectual Property

Juvenile Law




Real Property


Unemployment Compensation

Workers’ Compensation