In an unusual twist, a narrow majority of the Missouri House voted April 25 to make it easier, rather than harder, to sue businesses under certain circumstances.
The House passed a bill that would subject businesses to tort liability if a worker is injured by an employer-required vaccine. Thirteen Republicans joined Democrats in opposing the measure, and the resulting 84-58 tally was just two votes over the minimum needed to pass.
The bill now heads to the Missouri Senate, which would have to approve identical language by the end of the session on May 13 before it could become law.
Under the Required Immunization Liability Act, an employer that requires its employees “to receive an immunization as a condition of employment shall be liable to such employees for damages or injury arising from the required immunization.” The bill specifies employers can obtain insurance to cover that liability.
The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Mitch Boggs, R-LaRussell, said its purpose was “to give someone that’s having to take something against their will their freedom.” He urged his colleagues to support it, despite arguments that it would subject businesses to more litigation.
“If the vaccines are 100 percent sound, then there’s nothing to worry about,” Boggs said. “There’s going to be no court battles.”
Democratic opponents and some members of Boggs’ party disagreed. Republican Reps. Bruce DeGroot and Phil Christofanelli, both attorneys from St. Charles County who have supported many of the legislature’s past tort efforts, voted against the measure.
“We’ve got to do a better job of protecting our businesses — small businesses, big businesses, any businesses — when they go to court,” DeGroot said.
“This certainly does not do that,” Christofanelli responded. “We are now contriving new ways for businesses to be sued where they couldn’t be sued before … consistently, conservative Republicans have supported tort reform, but it seems like we’ve decided to go in the opposite direction here.”
The Republican-led legislature has made numerous changes to the state’s tort laws in recent years, including a bill last year that was designed to protect businesses from lawsuits stemming from the pandemic. Though this year’s bill appears to have arisen from concerns with the recently developed COVID-19 vaccines, Boggs specified that his measure covers potential injuries from all vaccines.
The Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry, which has backed many of the legislature’s previous tort efforts, called the vaccine bill “an egregious, anti-business bill that seeks to benefit trial attorneys at the expense of Missouri’s job creators.”
“It is extremely disappointing to see this job-killing legislation advancing,” Daniel P. Mehan, the chamber’s president and CEO, said in a statement after the bill won first-round approval on April 21. “This is government overreach. This is anti-business. This legislation hurts our economy and endangers our legal climate.”
Rep. Jo Doll, D-St. Louis, echoed the chamber’s statement, saying the bill could lead to “tons and tons and tons of litigation.”
“Here in the state of Missouri employers do have quite a few rights, and this would create real complications,” Doll said.
Doll also noted that federal law already has a process for people who suffer vaccine-related injuries to receive compensation. The National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act of 1986 allows victims to file a claim with the U.S. Court of Federal Claims rather than sue the vaccines’ manufacturers.
The bill is HB 1692.
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