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Debate should continue about tort awards and limitations

gavel-law-books-webIn a recent story by Clay Chandler, a federal appeals court has ruled that Mississippi’s tort cap does not violate separation of powers

A three-judge panel of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Mississippi’s $1 million cap on non-economic damages arising out of civil litigation does not violate the state’s constitutional separation of powers.

The cap was the centerpiece of tort reform legislation passed in 2004. Business groups, their membership and their political allies said the cap would make sure liability insurance premiums for businesses would remain predictable and not be cost-prohibitive.

The same groups said the cap would repair Mississippi’s reputation as a “judicial hell hole,” in which certain jurisdictions had become known for producing large jury verdicts against defendants in civil cases. Yet, there are still those who would debate these issues.

Jackson attorney and former state justice Oliver Diaz was recently on of the stars of the highly acclaimed and award-winning HBO documentary “Hot Coffee.”

The movie has raised eyebrows for nearly two years as it focuses on several high-profile tort litigation cases including the landmark “McDonald’s hot coffee” case and explores how corporations often spend large amounts of money to influence judicial elections.

This is an illuminating documentary. Caps on jury awards to victims can be so protective of corporations that, as in the case of the Gurley family, a jury is forbidden to award victims the amount of money needed to pay for damages. A brain damaged child’s expenses for care for the rest of his life are estimated at $6 million — but the money they can be awarded to $1.25 million. Taxpayers, through Medicaid, will pick up the rest of the bill with the responsible parties paying a mere fraction of the cost.

This is just one of many reasons there still needs to be thoughtful discussion on the issue.

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