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Mississippi House votes to limit landowners’ liability

Attorneys in the Mississippi House are sharply divided over a bill that could limit the liability of landowners or property managers who are sued by people harmed on their property.

The House voted 74-39 Monday to pass Senate Bill 2901 , named the “Landowners Protection Act.” The vote was largely along party lines, with most Republicans supporting it and most Democrats opposing it. After the vote, the bill was held for the possibility of another round of House debate another day.

Republican Rep. Mark Baker of Brandon, who is an attorney, argued for the bill, saying it would bring clarity to business owners.

Democratic Rep. Ed Blackmon, who is also an attorney, argued against the bill, saying it would create problems for people who are harmed.

Senators passed a version of the bill in early February. The House made some changes, and the two chambers must agree on a single version before the bill could go to the governor.

Baker said the Mississippi Supreme Court has found in one case that a business owner is not an insurer for all things that may occur on the property. He said the court has also held that “the relationship between a perpetrator and a victim may be relevant” in premises liability cases.

“Respectfully, this bill simply pulls together a wide area of case law … to put it in one line, in one place, clarity for business owners so they know that the risk is when they do business in your community,” said Baker, who is running for attorney general this year.

Blackmon said he has represented both plaintiffs and defendants in premises liability cases.

“They’re expensive and they’re hard to win,” Blackmon said of such cases, adding that the state Supreme Court already puts a heavy burden on plaintiffs to prove their claims.

Blackmon said that under the bill Baker is pushing, property owners would rarely be liable for damages if people are harmed.

“As long as they haven’t gone and shook hands with the criminal and said, ‘You’re invited to do whatever you want on my property,’ they have immunity,” Blackmon said. “They can’t be sued, they can’t be held accountable, under this bill.”

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