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Tort reform could be stepping stone to more civil society

As I See It

I was wrong. I didn’t think that legislators would pass anything approaching real tort reform, but they did — more or less.

At least they provided relief to the medical community. But as we prepare to send this issue of the MBJ to press, legislators are still wrestling with general tort reform and there is much uncertainty about the future of punitive damage caps and what will be done to offer some lawsuit relief to business and industry in Mississippi.

After nearly two decades of discussing tort reform and doing nothing about it, why did the Legislature finally act? The opposition has always been the trial lawyers and they are certainly still around and still vocal in their opposition to providing anybody any relief. And, they put their money where their mouth is. Defying the trial lawyers required courage beyond what we have come to expect from the Legislature.

It’s pretty clear why the legislators did what they did. The pressure from constituents was unbearable. The business and medical lobby was a powerful force, but not enough to sway the legislators in the absence of pressure from back home. We have witnessed first hand how democracy works, and it still works pretty well. Those of us who believe that tort reform is a good thing are indebted to people all across the state that communicated their feelings to their representatives. The business and medical lobbyists also did yeoman’s work, and they also deserve our gratitude.

Unfortunately, several groups have gotten branded with negative labels they don’t all deserve.

Contrary to popular belief not all lawyers are evil, greedy and self-serving. In fact our nation depends on the legal community to maintain order in our nation of laws. Without hard working men and women devoted to the practice of law, our nation could not long survive.

And, yes we must have trial lawyers too. It would be easy to paint all trial lawyers as the personification of evil, and some are indeed about as low as low can be. However absolute, unfettered power in the hands of business and industry would destroy our society. We must have attorneys who are willing to champion the rights of individuals who have really been wronged by providers of goods and services.

Just as all lawyers are not bad, not all doctors and other providers of health care enjoy an untarnished record. Patients are occasionally maltreated by incompetent and uncaring medical practitioners and deserve to be called to account. Unfortunately, greedy trial lawyers have preyed on the guilty and innocent alike in their relentless pursuit of money and it was necessary to rein them in.

However, too many jury awards in Mississippi are completely out of control. Slipping on a banana peel in a grocery story should not be the ticket to indescribable wealth. Our society is fixated on lawsuits and personal responsibility has taken the back seat to victimhood. Never forget that those gargantuan jury awards are ultimately paid by us consumers since business has no where to get money but from the sale of products and services.

Wouldn’t it be great if tort reform was the beginning of a more civil society where neighbors at least attempted to resolve their differences peacefully rather than immediately resorting to litigation? Where doctors were free to practice the best medicine they knew how without the necessity of looking over their shoulders all the time. Where people realized that sometimes things just happen to us and no one is at fault.

Wishful thinking? Who knows.

Thought for the Moment — Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still with him on the way, or he may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison.

— Matthew 5:25

Joe D. Jones, CPA, is publisher of the Mississippi Business Journal. Contact him at cpajones@msbusiness.com.

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