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Altering tort reform is bad

Mississippi’s Supreme Court is weighing a case that threatens to undermine the state’s efforts to rein in lawsuit abuse.

Earlier last  month, as the Greenwood Commonwealth recently pointed out in an editorial, the justices heard arguments about a civil judgment in a Humphreys County case that left both sides unhappy.

In 2008, a jury awarded Ronnie Lee Lymas $4.17 million after he was shot while leaving a convenience store in Belzoni. The jury agreed with Lymas that Double Quick Inc. didn’t do enough to ensure his safety.

The judge reduced the verdict to $1.67 million, in compliance with a 2004 state law that caps pain and suffering and other damages at $1M.

Double Quick wants the verdict overturned; Lymas’ attorneys want the $4.17-million judgment restored. And a host of other parties, including Gov. Haley Barbour, have weighed in, saying that, regardless of the liability issue, the damage cap must be upheld or this state will once again be home to a “jackpot justice” system that was scaring away doctors and employers.

… It is hard to see how a reasonable jury could think Double Quick should have prevented the assault on Lymas. He was shot in the back in the store’s parking lot in broad daylight. Security cameras would not have prevented what happened. Is the jury saying that every business has to have round-the-clock manned security on the chance that someone, sometime might be hurt by a criminal element? …

The questionable merits of the case notwithstanding, what should not prevail is the plaintiff’s attempt to throw out damage caps. Mississippi, through its elected representatives, decided how much could be awarded for the nebulous category of non-economic damages. The state had become a haven for lawsuits, in part because it allowed plaintiffs’ attorneys to manipulate the sympathies of juries for “the little man” to award damages that had no rational basis. Liability insurance became not just more expensive but harder to obtain.

The damage limits, adopted under Barbour’s urging, brought some sanity back to the civil justice system. It’s critical that they be allowed to stand.

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