In reversing nearly $700,000 in post-judgment interest, the Missouri Court of Appeals for the Western District clarified that post-judgment interest can be recovered only after the trial court enters a final judgment. Notably, in wrongful death cases, a trial court’s failure to apportion damages among beneficiaries renders a judgment not final and precludes post-judgment interest.
The plaintiffs filed a wrongful death action against a skid steer manufacturer, claiming that a mechanic was fatally injured when the cab of a skid steer fell on him during maintenance. A jury returned a verdict in favor of the plaintiffs, awarding $3,000,000 in compensatory damages and $10,000,000 in punitive damages.
On November 17, 2020, the trial court entered judgment on the jury’s verdict and awarded the plaintiffs post-judgment interest. Notably, an initial appeal was dismissed because the trial court had failed to apportion the damages among the beneficiaries and thus the judgment was not yet final.
On November 23, 2021, the trial court entered judgment apportioning the damages and awarding post-judgment interest from the date of the original 2020 judgment.
Post-Judgment Interest Appeal
On appeal, the defendant argued that the trial court erred in awarding post-judgment interest from the date of the 2020 judgment, instead of the 2021 judgment apportioning damages.
In Missouri, post-judgment interest is governed by section 408.040 of the Missouri Revised Statutes. This section distinguishes between tort and non-tort actions. In tort actions, such as this case, the post-judgment interest rate is the federal funds rate plus five percent. This rate is applied to the principal amount, prejudgment interest, and all costs and fees. Post-judgment interest accrues from the date the court enters judgment, not the date of the verdict. To enter a final judgment in a wrongful death action, a court must apportion damages among the decedent’s beneficiaries. See Mo. Rev. Stat. § 537.095.3.
Here, the appellate court held that post-judgment interest accrued from the 2021 judgment, not the 2020 judgment. The court reasoned that because the 2020 judgment did not apportion damages for wrongful death, it was not final and, therefore, could not trigger post-judgment interest. Unlike the 2020 judgment, the 2021 judgment apportioned damages. Finding the 2021 judgment controlling for post-judgment interest, the court reversed the trial court, erasing nearly $700,000 in post-judgment interest.
The court’s ruling reaffirms that in Missouri, post-judgment interest only accrues from a final judgment entered by the court. In the context of wrongful death cases, a judgment is only final when the court apportions damages. Therefore, defendants should remain mindful of this requirement to avoid or challenge excessive post-judgment interest awards.
Church v. CNH Indus. Am., LLC, No. WD 85103, 2023 WL 3470478 (Mo. Ct. App. May 16, 2023), reh’g and/or transfer denied (June 20, 2023)
Written with the assistance of Amanda Ellis, a summer associate in the Husch Blackwell’s St. Louis office