Tort-cap case headed to Supreme Court

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Published: May 11,2010

Tags: courts, tort reform

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JACKSON — Attorneys for Ronnie Lymas go to the Mississippi Supreme Court June 8 hoping to resurrect a $4.1-million jury verdict vehemently opposed by dozens of trade associations and Gov. Haley Barbour.

Critics say Lymas is not legally entitled to that much money.

A Humphreys County jury decided Lymas should be compensated for getting shot eight times in the back in 2007 during an altercation at a gas station/convenience store in Belzoni. The jury found the owners of Double Quick liable for Lymas’ injuries. Lymas sued Double Quick, claiming the company didn’t do enough to ensure the safety of its customers.

The jury awarded actual damages to cover things like medical costs, plus non-economic damages with the total coming to about $4.1 million. The judge in the case, however, lowered the non-economic damages to $1 million, which is the cap put into law by the Mississippi Legislature in 2003.

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

Joe Tatum of Jackson, who represents Lymas, has declined to comment on the case.

Since the 2008 decisions by the jury and the judge, groups from the Mississippi Farm Bureau to the Mississippi Propane Gas Association to the Mississippi Poultry Association have lined up against Lymas.

The case is seen not only as a significant test of civil justice changes enacted in 2003 — hailed by business leaders and despised by plaintiffs’ attorneys — but also as a showdown over so-called premises liability issues.

Barbour champions tort reform and has said a ruling that overrides the tighter liability laws would be devastating for the state. He has asked the Supreme Court to uphold “the constitutionality of Mississippi’s non-economic damage caps.”

The non-economic caps — also called punitive damages — put a limit on what juries can award someone for such things as pain and suffering.

Bob Montgomery, a Canton attorney representing some of the trade associations, said the case marks the first time a challenge to the tort reform laws has reached the Supreme Court.

Lymas has his own supporters such as the Magnolia Bar Association, a lawyers’ group that in its brief said the Legislature’s non-economic damage limit violated the Constitution’s separation of powers by stepping into judiciary matters.

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