A statute of repose is a law that cuts off a right of action after a specified time period has elapsed, regardless of when the cause of action accrues. Most states have such statutes, but they vary widely as to limitation periods, what is covered, and whom the statute protects. A statute of repose differs from a statute of limitation in that a time period specified in a statute of limitations usually does not begin to run until the injury or damage actually occurs, irrespective of when the product was sold.
Missouri took an important first step in creating a statute of repose for product liability claims by debating Senate Bill #7 in committee at the end of January. If it passes the Legislature and is signed by the governor, Senate Bill # 7 would place Missouri among the many states with some type of statute of repose for product liability claims.
The proposed bill sets a statute of repose of fifteen years and would bar claims for personal injury, property damage, wrongful death, or economic loss. The time period would begin to run when the product is first sold or leased to any person or otherwise placed in the stream of commerce. The catchall of “otherwise placed into the stream of commerce” will be an important for component parts manufacturers and suppliers along with those who sell their products to distributors as it could cut off claims at an earlier date than when the plaintiff first purchased the product.
There are some significant exceptions built into the proposed bill. First, it would not apply to any product that is real property or an improvement to real property. However, Section 516.097, which has a shorter statute of repose, may bar some of those claims. The proposed statute would also not bar any claims for negligent servicing or negligent maintenance of a product.
Second, if the defective or unsafe condition was knowingly concealed or negligence in the construction, manufacture, sale or distribution was knowingly concealed, those claims are not barred. However, the concealed defective or unsafe condition or the concealed negligence must directly result in the claims asserted. Similarly, if the product was subject to a government mandated product recall related to consumer safety, the statute of repose would not bar those claims if the reason for the recall and the subject of the claims are the same.
The bill would also exempt any product that has an expected useful life exceeding fifteen years. This exception would only apply if the useful life is stated by the manufacturer, seller or lessor in a written warranty or in an advertisement to the public. However, the bill would cut off claims two years after the stated useful life. If a claim arose during the potential useful life of a product, a jury may, in determining whether the product’s useful safe life has expired, consider the amount of wear and tear, deterioration from natural causes including storing conditions, normal practices regarding the product’s use, repairs, renewals and replacements, any stated useful safe life by the manufacturer or modifications made to the product.
Finally, the statute would impact toxic tort claims. The statute would not apply to any claims where a defective or unsafe condition allegedly caused a respiratory or malignant disease with a latency of more than fifteen years. However, it does bar claims against the sellers of any such products unless the seller is also the manufacturer.
The proposed bill would have a significant impact on product liability claims in Missouri. The bill would apply to all civil actions commenced on or after August 28, 2021, or to any new causes of action asserted in civil actions pending on or after that date. The proposal also provides a safe harbor provision that any claims that would be barred by the statute that accrued on or before August 28, 2021, must be brought no later than August 21, 2022.
The bill recently passed the Government Accountability and Fiscal Oversight Committee. If the bill passes the full Senate, it will then be sent to the Missouri House of Representatives for potential amendment. If the bill passes both chambers, it will be sent to the governor for signature. We will continue monitoring the bill’s progress through the legislative process and provide updates.