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Breaking News: Tort reform saved

Mississippi’s tort reform laws are safe, thanks to a Sept. 23 Mississippi Supreme Court ruling that upheld the denial of a $4.1-million jury award vehemently opposed by dozens of trade associations and Gov. Haley Barbour.

Double Quick Inc. v. Ronnie Lee Lymas is a case relevant to premises liability as well as tort reform law.

State tort reform law passed in 2004 caps non-economic damage awards at $1 million. Mississippi tort reform laws, some of the most comprehensive nationwide, are credited with stopping frivolous lawsuits that drove up malpractice insurance premiums for doctors and created an unfavorable business climate. Awards for non-economic damages, or punitive damages, include compensation for pain, suffering and emotional distress.

After a 2007 shooting at a convenience store in Belzoni, a Humphreys County jury decided Ronnie Lee Lymas should be compensated for being shot eight times in the back. The owners of Double Quick were found liable for Lymas’ injuries, and the jury awarded him more than $4 million in actual and non-economic damages.

However, the judge in the case lowered the non-economic damages award to $1 million, in compliance with the cap put in place by the state Legislature.

Lymas’ attorneys challenged the judge’s decision and the constitutionality of the cap.

In its decision issued last week the Mississippi Supreme Court threw out Lymas’ premises liability argument in favor of Double Quick. Lymas had contended that there was an atmosphere of violence at the store, and Double Quick did not take reasonable steps to protect customers.

The Court also dismissed Lymas’ request for the full $4.1 million originally awarded him by the Humphreys County jury.

The decision states: “Lymas failed to present sufficient proof that any alleged negligent omission was the proximate cause of the shooting. Accordingly, we reverse and render judgment in favor of Double Quick. Lymas’s cross-appeal is hereby dismissed as moot.”

More than 50 trade organizations, from Mississippi Farm Bureau to the Mississippi Propane Gas Association to the Mississippi Poultry Association, had filed briefs with the Court asking it to uphold the current law.

The Magnolia Bar Association supported Lymas, stating in a brief that the Legislature’s non-economic damages cap violates the Constitution’s separation of powers by stepping into judiciary matters. The Magnolia Bar is an associate member of the National Bar Association, a group composed primarily of African-American lawyers.

In March the U.S. Chamber’s Institute for Legal Reform released its survey ranking the states with the best and worst legal climates in the country. Mississippi was 48th. Only Louisiana (49th) and West Virginia (50th) ranked as having worse perceived legal environments than Mississippi, the survey said.

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