Effective August 28, 2020, and subject to any potential court challenges and legislative modifications, Missouri law relating to punitive damages has changed quite a bit. The changes — codified in 510.261, RSMo — are procedural and substantive.
Substantively, punitive damages cannot be award unless the plaintiff proves 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.” There are also additional substantive changes about when punitive damages may be awarded in employment cases.
The procedural changes are perhaps more significant. An initial pleading or lawsuit cannot contain a claim for punitive damages. A claim for punitive damages may only be filed with leave of court — that is, with court permission. In deciding whether to grant permission, the Court must review evidence to determine whether a judge or jury at trial could conclude that the foregoing standard for an award could reasonably be met. There are specific timing requirements, too. The request to add punitive damages must be filed no later than one-hundred and twenty days prior to a pretrial conference. If there is no pretrial conference, the request must be filed one-hundred and twenty days prior to trial.