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Mississippi Supreme Court Examines State’s Tort Reform laws

By Jeffrey Hess | Published 14 Jun 2011 04:13pm | comments
Lawyers debate the tort reform law before the Supreme Court.

The fate of one of Mississippi's Tort Reform laws is now in the hands of the Mississippi Supreme Court. The Court has been asked to determine if a 1-million dollar cap on non-economic damages is constitutional. MPB's Jeffrey Hess reports that the case stems from a car crash near Philadelphia Mississippi.

The non-economic damages limit....sometimes called damages for pain and suffering....was part of the state's tort reform effort in the early 2000's.

Limiting those damages, argues attorney Robert Peck, is an unconstitutional over reach of the authority of both the courts and juries.

"I think in keeping with your precedents, it is clear that this is an infringement and encroachment on judicial power. And even if it were not it is very clearly and infringement and encroachment on the power of the jury," Peck said.

The law is in court because of a 2005 car accident between a Mississippi woman and a Sears Roebuck van.

A jury found the Sears driver at fault and awarded the woman more then 2-million dollars in non-economic damages....which was reduced to meet the cap required by law.

The fifth district Court of Appeals in New Orleans asked the state supreme court to determine if the law is constitutional.

Justice James Kitchens challenged Frank Citera, an attorney for Sears who is defending the law, to explain what happens to someone...such as a child or stay-at-home mother...who is injured but can't show that they have economic losses.

"(They) clearly have damages which are non-economic, and you are telling us it is a good thing for the legislature to decide in advance how much those damages are and to not allow a jury or any judicial entity to make that determination," Kitchens said.

After the hearing, Attorney Citera defended the non-economic damage cap saying it is constitutional and makes rulings more consistent.

"I don't think there is anyone in this court room who could say that a 40-year olds pain and suffering is any more or less than a young person's pain and suffer. So presumably, the young person will continue to have medical expenses and those will be compensated," Citera said.

The limits on non-economic damages were adopted by Mississippi lawmakers after years of contentious wrangling over lawsuit awards....and are frequently cited by Governor Haley Barbour and business groups as a key economic driver in the state.


Lawyers debate the tort reform law before the Supreme Court.



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