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Miss. Supreme Court punts issue of damages cap

The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals almost two years ago asked the Mississippi Supreme Court to decide if the state’s cap on noneconomic damages was constitutional.

Thursday afternoon, state justices declined to do so. The question arose out of a personal injury lawsuit against Sears and Roebuck Co.

Plaintiff Lisa Learmonth was awarded $4 million by a federal jury, but that award was modified to conform with the tort cap. Learmonth’s attorneys appealed that modification to the Fifth Circuit, who kicked the issue to the state court for clarification on the cap.

In an 7-1 ruling (Chief Justice Bill Waller Jr. did not participate) justices said that deciding the constitutionality of the $1 million cap on noneconomic damages arising from civil suits would “require engaging in speculation[,] conjecture[,] supposition[,] and
guesswork regarding what amount the jury [may have] awarded in economic damages and
what amount it [may have] awarded in noneconomic damages.”

Justice Jess Dickinson was the lone dissent. In his separate opinion, he said the court’s refusal to settle the cap question based on whether the federal court’s calculations used to arrive at the modified award were factual was to disregard simple math.

“The court deducted all claimed and proven economic damages in the amount of $1,781,094.40 from the total award of $4 million, to arrive at the noneconomic award of $2,218,905.60,” Dickinson wrote. “In third grade, I was asked: “If a farmer has ten apples and sells six, how many apples does he have left? Neither my answer of four apples, nor the district court’s mathematical calculation – according to the majority’s logic – was ‘factual.’”

The entire opinion can be read here.

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