On June 29, 2021, Missouri Governor Mike Parson signed SB-HB 345 into law, which will drastically change Section 537.065 of the Missouri Revised Statutes. Section 537.065 provides an insured who has been denied insurance coverage a statutory mechanism to settle certain tort claims through an agreement akin to a consent judgment. Typically referred to as a “065 Agreement,” the statute allows a plaintiff and insured-tortfeasor to settle a claim for damages and specify which assets are available to satisfy the claim, typically the tortfeasor’s available insurance policy. In the past, such agreements were often accomplished without the insurer’s participation or even its knowledge. Under such agreements, the insured-tortfeasor assigns all rights to the insurance policy to the plaintiff and agrees not to contest the issues of liability or damages. In exchange the plaintiff agrees not to execute any judgment against the insured. The parties conduct what amounts to an uncontested and often “sham” trial resulting in a judgment far in excess of any actual damages or applicable policy limits had the case been contested. In a subsequent proceeding to collect on the judgment, the tortfeasor’s insurer is bound by the determinations of liability and damages made in the underlying action.
This statutory framework presented plenty of opportunities for abuse. In 2017, the statute was amended in order to address some of those issues, including a requirement that the insured provide notice of a settlement demand under Section 065 and providing insurers a limited right to intervene in the tort action before liability and damages have been determined. Ostensibly, the intent of the 2017 amendments was to reduce the number of large and uncontested judgments and allow the insurance carrier an opportunity to continue litigating the injured party’s claim where the insured has no incentive or is contractually prohibited from doing so. Yet, creative plaintiff’s attorneys found several “loopholes” around these changes, most prominently, by moving their disputes from state court to binding arbitration and dispensing with notice to the insurer altogether, or at least until after the arbitration has concluded.