Revisions to Punitive Damages in Missouri

Lauren L. Wood

By Lauren L. Wood



Authored by Lauren L. Wood with assistance from Haley E. Gassel, law clerk

personal injuryChanges have been made to punitive damages claims in civil actions filed in Missouri on or after August 28, 2020.

Under the revisions, Missouri Revised Statute Section 510.261 now prohibits parties from making a claim for punitive damages in their initial pleading in a civil action. Any claimant who wishes to add a punitive damages claim to a civil action must file a written motion to amend 120 days prior to the pretrial conference, or, if no conference is scheduled, 120 days prior to trial, seeking leave to bring a claim for punitive damages. The claimant seeking leave must provide exhibits, affidavits, and discovery materials establishing a reasonable basis for the recovery of punitive damages. Any party opposing leave may submit admissible evidence to demonstrate that the standards for a punitive damage award have not been met. The court may grant leave to add the punitive damages claim if it determines that a judge or jury could reasonably conclude, based on clear and convincing evidence, that the standards for a punitive damage award have been met. This statute has the effect of preventing meritless claims being made in litigation as well as saving both the time and money of the parties involved.

Substantive Changes and Clarifications

After clearing the hurdle of obtaining leave to bring a punitive damages claim, a claimant must satisfy the statute’s requirements to receive an award of punitive damages. To do so, RSMo  510.261(1) requires the claimant to prove by clear and convincing evidence that the defendant “intentionally harmed the plaintiff without just cause or acted with a deliberate and flagrant disregard for the safety of others.” The revised statute does three things:

  1. Codifies the original common law regarding punitive damages. In Klingman v. Holmes, 54 Mo. 304, 308 (1873), the first Missouri Supreme Court case allowing an award of punitive damages, the Court held that exemplary damages are only appropriate where an evil intent has manifested itself in acts. The court reasoned that under common law there must have been intent, or positive proof of malice, to justify granting punitive damages.
  2. Clarifies the requisite mental state of the defendant, to intentionally harm without cause or with a deliberate and flagrant disregard for the safety of others. This gives the judge or fact finder a clear standard for determining whether the claimant is entitled to punitive damages.
  3. Codifies the “clear and convincing” burden of proof standard. The Missouri Supreme Court has previously adopted this standard, but it had yet to be codified.[1],[2] The clear and convincing burden of proof standard falls within the middle ground of the ordinary civil burden of proof standard, preponderance of the evidence, and the criminal law standard, beyond a reasonable doubt.

Nominal Damages Continue reading »

Department of Labor’s Updated Regulations for FFCRA

Lauren L. Wood

By Lauren L. Wood



updateThe Department of Labor (DOL) published new guidelines on September 16, 2020 that revise and clarify portions of the Families First Coronavirus Relief Act (FFCRA). The new guidelines were issued following a ruling by a New York District Court that declared certain previously issued regulations invalid. These updated regulations relate to the following:

  • The requirement of “work availability,”
  • The requirement of employer approval for FFCRA leave to be intermittent,
  • The definition of “health care provider,” and
  • Requirements for notice and documentation.

The new regulations went into effect at the time they were published and will remain in effect until December 31, 2020 when the FFCRA is set to expire.

Work Availability Requirement

The DOL clarified that the work availability requirement applies to all qualifying reasons to take leave under the FFCRA. Thus, the leave may only be taken if the employer has work for the employee. The qualifying reason must be the actual reason the employee is unable to work, rather than not having work to do regardless of whether the qualifying reason occurs. Previously, the work availability requirement was only explicitly applicable to three of the six possible qualifying reasons for leave.

Intermittent Leave Requires Employer Approval Continue reading »

Business Interruption Insurance Coverage and COVID-19

Lauren L. Wood

By Lauren L. Wood



In this time of massive economic downturn, stay-at-home orders and required closures of non-essential businesses, business owners are looking to their commercial insurance policies to provide coverage for their losses. Specifically, insureds are looking to apply the business interruption coverage of their policies. Of course, each specific policy must be read and applied to the insured’s specific situation, but the pandemic certainly raises issues that will need to be addressed by many insurers and their policy holders.business interruption

Business interruption coverage provides insureds with protection for a reduction in income resulting from a necessary suspension in operations. Often, this coverage applies when a business sustains loss of income due to physical damage to the property, such as from a fire or flood. Business owners filing claims arising out of the COVID-19 crisis are finding that their insurers do not interpret “physical damage” to include damage caused by the pandemic. Insureds have already begun filing lawsuits across the country, challenging this interpretation. They argue that possible COVID-19 contamination constitutes physical damage triggering coverage.

Some policies specifically address loss and damage from a virus, either in their exclusions to coverage or in their endorsements expanding coverage. Although many commercial policies contain coverage exclusions for damage caused by a virus or bacteria, insureds are examining these exclusions for ambiguities that may be construed in their favor. Disputes are also occurring over the interpretation of endorsements referencing losses caused by a virus. In one such case, SCGM v. Certain Underwriters at Lloyd’s, a theater chain filed a declaratory judgment action in The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas against its insurer Lloyd’s of London, for its anticipated refusal to provide coverage under a “Pandemic Event Endorsement.” Lloyd’s has asserted that COVID-19 is not specifically listed as a covered disease on the endorsement while SCGM argues it is a variation of SARS-CoV, which is listed.

Another coverage contained in many policies is “civil authority” coverage. This coverage typically applies when a civil authority (i.e., a state or local government) issues an order prohibiting access to a business due to direct physical damage or loss to a property other than the insured premises. Continue reading »

Unemployment Benefits in the Time of Covid-19

Lauren L. Wood

By Lauren L. Wood



layoff

The United States has seen a staggering rise in claims for unemployment with nearly 3.3 million new jobless claims. With no clear end to the COVID-19 crisis in sight, Congress passed legislation and states have revised policies to ease the growing unemployment burden. This article provides an overview of the unemployment provisions of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (the “CARES Act”) and new measures taken by Missouri and Illinois to provide relief.

The CARES Act

The CARES Act provides for $260 billion to dramatically expand unemployment coverage for workers who are unable to work as a result of the pandemic.

In the event a worker becomes unemployed as a result of COVID-19, the worker will be eligible for Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) of $600 per week. This payment is in addition to any benefits a worker is entitled to under applicable state law. The supplemental payments will be provided through July 31, 2020.

The CARES Act also provides for 13 weeks of Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC), in addition to regular length of time a worker may receive regular state benefits. To receive these extended benefits, a worker must be actively searching for work, though the CARES Act requires states to provide flexibility in applying this requirement when COVID-19 restricts an individual’s ability to look for work.

Workers who usually do not qualify for unemployment benefits, including those who are self-employed, independent contractors and freelancers, among others, will be eligible for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA). PUA is also available to those who have already exhausted all rights to regular unemployment benefits (including the extended benefits described above). Certain criteria specific to the COVID-19 pandemic apply to individuals seeking PUA. For those who meet the criteria, PUA is available for weeks of unemployment, partial unemployment, or inability to work caused by COVID-19 for up to 39 weeks of the time period of January 27, 2020 through December 31, 2020.

Another portion of the CARES Act expands “work sharing” programs to provide partial benefits to workers with reduced hours. These programs allow employers to put workers on part-time status with partial unemployment benefits. Currently, the cost of these programs, intended to prevent layoffs, is borne by individual states. The CARES Act provides funding to states to promote and utilize these programs.

Missouri’s Response

The recently passed Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) goes into effect April 1, 2020. The FFCRA provides states an initial influx of funding to handle the dramatic increase in unemployment benefit applications and allowed flexibility in modifying policies and procedures. Missouri Governor Mike Parson announced changes being made by the Missouri Department of Labor and Industrial Relations:

Continue reading »

An Employer’s Guide to Paid Leave Under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act

Lauren L. Wood

By Lauren L. Wood



UPDATED 9/21/2020

This chart is intended to provide a general overview of new obligations under the recently enacted Families First Coronavirus Response Act legislation. This new law is complex and subject to regulatory guidance and evolving interpretations. The employment law attorneys at Danna McKitrick, P.C. are available for up-to-date guidance before taking any action. For updated DOL regulations, see Department of Labor’s Updated Regulations for FFCRA effective 9/16/2020.

EMERGENCY FAMILY & MEDICAL LEAVE EXPANSION ACT
(FMLA EXPANSION)

Who must provide leave under the FMLA Expansion?

Employers with less than 500 employees

Who is eligible to
use this leave?

Employees (both full- and part-time) after 30 days from hiring, for the reasons listed below.

Why may an employee use this leave?

The employee is unable to work, either onsite or remotely, because the employee must care for a minor son or daughter whose school or place of care has been closed, or whose care provider is unavailable due to a public health emergency

How long is the
leave?

Up to 12 weeks

What is the required pay during the leave?

The first 10 days may be unpaid. An employee may choose to use accrued PTO for the first 10 days.

This is the employee’s choice and may not be mandated by the employer. After the first 10 days, the employee must receive pay based on the number of hours the employee would normally be scheduled to work. The pay must be two thirds of their regular rate of pay, not to exceed $200 per day or $10,000.00 total.

Is job protection
required for an employee who uses this leave?

Yes, the employee must be able to return to the same or equivalent position.

Are there exceptions to the requirement for job protection?

Yes, job protection requirements may not apply to employers with less than 25 employees, if specific conditions are met and the position is eliminated due to changes
resulting from the public health emergency. In this circumstance, an employee must be placed on a re-hire list for one year.

Are any employers with less than 500 employees exempt from the new FMLA expansion?

Possibly. The Secretary of Labor may choose to exempt small businesses with less than 50 employees if following the requirements would jeopardize the viability of the business.

Note that the Secretary of labor has NOT made this exemption as of the time
of this writing.

Employers of health care providers or emergency responders may exclude such an employee from the benefits of this Act. The regular FMLA definition of health care provider is limited and this exclusion should be applied cautiously.

When is the FMLA Expansion in effect?

April 1, 2020 through December 31, 2020

How will my
business recover the cost of this leave?

With a refundable tax credit equal to 100% of the qualified paid wages required under this Act.

EMERGENCY PAID SICK LEAVE ACT

Continue reading »