Liability Reform Bills Prioritized and Signed in Montana

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Montana Governor Greg Gianforte signs key bills aimed at improving the state’s civil justice system.

Another key civil justice reform bill was signed today by Governor Greg Gianforte (R), rounding out a successful year of legislation aimed at rebalancing the state’s courts.

Senate Bill 251, sponsored by Senator Cary Smith (R-Billings) and signed into law today, addresses artificially inflated damage amounts in civil trials, called phantom damages. These phantom damages occur any time lawsuit recoveries are calculated using the dollar amount a patient was billed for a medical service instead of the amount the patient, their insurer, Medicare, Medicaid, or workers’ compensation actually paid for treatment.

“I am pleased to see Governor Gianforte make civil justice reform a priority in his first year in office,” American Tort Reform Association President Tiger Joyce said. “Addressing the use of inflated billed amounts will help decrease the overall cost of Montana’s judicial system.”

Senate Bill 251 will prevent trial lawyers from taking unfair advantage of the system and receiving large payouts based on such inflated bill amounts.

Last week, Gov. Gianforte also signed Senate Bill 338, sponsored by Senator Mike Lang (R-Malta), which addresses a landowner’s liability  with regard to trespassers. Twenty-four states have enacted similar legislation.

“I applaud Governor Gianforte, Senators Smith and Lang, and the full legislature for their work taking up liability concerns,” Joyce said. “A balanced court system is integral to creating both a thriving economy and ensuring the state’s government is fair to all.”

Another key bill, Senate Bill 65, sponsored by Senator Steve Fitzpatrick (R-Great Falls), was signed into law earlier during the legislative session in February and went into effect immediately. The new law will provide aid as the state enters recovery from the pandemic and will provide liability protections related to the COVID-19 pandemic and exposure or premises claims, healthcare, products and personal protective equipment.

“This year’s legislative successes include critical reforms to Montana’s court system, which will prevent it from moving up in the Judicial Hellholes ranks,” Joyce said. “The Montana Supreme Court is currently on our Judicial Hellholes ‘Watch List’ – as it consistently hands down decisions that expand liability in the state, I would urge members of the court to follow the lead of the state’s other two branches of government.”

The Montana Supreme Court has been included on the “Watch List” of the American Tort Reform Foundation’s annual Judicial Hellholes® report for three years. The Court has been named to the Watch List due to its propensity for issuing liability-expanding decisions and treating defendants unfairly. Former Governor Steve Bullock also vetoed trespasser liability legislation and other positive civil justice reform initiatives during his eight years in office.

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