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Speaker's Resource: 9. Mississippi, p1

 

 

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Key Reference Citations (KRC)

 

Chapter 9:

Legal Reform in Mississippi

 

 

Introduction

 

 In 2004, the Mississippi Legislature passed comprehensive tort reform legislation that many consider a model for the nation.  Among the provisions, the legislation reforms Mississippi’s venue law, including a provision that venue must be established independently for each plaintiff  (thus effectively wiping out the mass tort actions that have plagued Mississippi courts for so long); caps non-economic damages in general business / tort actions at $1 Million, and caps non-economic damages in medical / health related actions at $500,000 (thus, providing predictability with regard to pain and suffering damages, the measurement of which is totally subjective); immunizes sellers and distributors of products from liability for latent defects unless the seller / distributor has actual or constructive knowledge of the defect; caps punitive damages according to a sliding net-worth scale; and eliminates joint and several liability, replacing it with a pure several liability standard where a defendant only pays for his share of the fault, regardless if this percentage is 1% or 99%.  (KRC: WTTW, page 5)

 

History

  • The 2004 legislative session in Mississippi was not the beginning of the fight.  Instead, 2004 was the culmination of a battle that had been waged for years, and especially the last four years when the intensity had greatly increased.  (KRC: WTTW, page 6)

  • In 2001, hearings were held in the Senate Insurance Committee, and then in joint hearings before a special committee appointed from the House of Representatives and Senate.  Major comprehensive legislation was introduced in 2000, 2001, and in 2002.  In 2002, legislation actually came out of Committee in the Senate during the regular legislative session before it died on the floor calendar.  This was the most progress that had ever been made on major comprehensive tort reform legislation in recent memory.  (KRC: WTTW, A Short History, page 7)

  • The Governor at the time was not a strong proponent of tort reform, but public pressure had built to such a point, especially with regard to the medical field, that the Governor, over the objection of the plaintiff’s trial bar, called the Special Session.  After a grueling 83 day Special Session, tort reform legislation was passed and signed by the Governor.  (Both of these bills can be found at www.ls.state.ms.us)

  • The election of 2003 was an election where tort reform was front and center.  The Republican candidate for Governor, Haley Barbour, and the Republican candidate for Lt. Governor, Amy Tuck, both made tort reform one of the top platform planks of their campaigns.  (KRC: WTTW, A Short History, page 7-8)

We Fought a War, Not Just a Battle

  • War is usually a series of battles that build upon each other.  The first key is the fact that the tort reform effort in Mississippi was fought as a war, not just a battle.  Just as the invasion of Normandy in June 1944 probably would not have been successful without the experience gained earlier in North Africa and Italy, success in the tort reform war in Mississippi would not have occurred without the lessons learned and the foundations laid in the previous three years of the fight.  Conversely, the length of the war wore down the opponents and taxed their resources.  (KRC: WTTW, We Fought A War, Not Just a Battle, page 8)

  • Thus, a key to success in going forward in other states is to plan to wage the fight over a length of time that will allow all the necessary conditions and elements to be in place for a final push.  (KRC: WTTW, We Fought A War, Not Just a Battle, page 9)

Consensus as to What Needed to Be Done

  • A second key to success in the 2004 session is that there had developed in the Mississippi Legislature a consensus as to the reforms that were both substantively necessary and politically achievable.  This consensus resulted from the fact that the fight extended over four years.  (KRC: WTTW, Consensus as to What Needed to Be Done, page 9)

  • After the completion of hearings, the Senate members tried to put our heads together to come up with a list of recommendations.  The list we compiled contained many of the measures that various parts of the business or medical community suggested.  To a certain extent, the menu of measures at that time was somewhat of a wish list of what seemed to be good ideas.  Unfortunately, there was no clear consensus among legislative leaders of the effort at that time on what was wheat and what was chaff, either substantively or politically.  By contrast, at the start of the 2004 legislative session, the leadership of the pro-tort reform forces in the legislature had a very clear idea of the key provisions that could be sacrificed without any significant loss to the effort.  This consensus was only possible because of the gnashing of teeth, the debate and the process of living with the issues for three years prior.  (KRC: WTTW, Consensus as to What Needed to Be Done, page 9)

  • To start, by 2004 valuable time and effort did not have to be spent on educating a majority of individual legislators.  Further, the consensus gave legislative leaders the confidence to say “no” to groups who wanted to add special provisions to help their business or field.  Most importantly, “tort reform” came to mean something concrete.  (KRC: WTTW, Consensus as to What Needed to Be Done, page 9)

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Please Note:  The material presented in this Speaker's Resource has been collected from a wide variety of sources.  You are welcome to use this material for quotations and factual material in your speeches, presentations and articles.  To the best of our ability, we have provided original citations so that you can document the comments you use.  If you become aware that any of the citations or facts presented in this collection are inaccurate or outdated by newer information, please send an email to Speakers@lawexec.com to tell us so that we can update this material.  The materials cited are generally copyrighted by the original author and when you quote from their material, you should include the original attribution to acknowledge their role as authors.  Original material © 2005 American Justice Partnership.