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Time to get a grip on jackpot justice'

By By Buddy Bynum
Jan. 1, 2002
There is no greater threat to Mississippi's business climate than lawyers swooping down on rural county juries in hopes of hitting a damage award jackpot. These smooth operators, well-schooled in the art of winning multi-million-dollar damages, are giving the state a bad name among site selection consultants who scout out potential business relocations.
Every time a Florida law firm targets Mississippi nursing homes, every time another out-of-state firm goes shopping for a friendly jurisdiction, every time a jury generously awards multi-millions of dollars, the word "justice" takes a hit. The word goes out that Mississippi is a gold mine for trial lawyers, and that hurts business interests that may be considering locating in the state.
Existing Small businesses are especially hard hit. These are usually little family-owned companies that simply cannot withstand the crush of a huge judgment.
When did Mississippi become lawsuit mecca and why do we stand for it?
The subject of tort reform is expected to come up during the 2002 session of the Mississippi Legislature, which begins Jan. 8. So is a trial lawyer special issue: They now want the legal right to pick a judge or court they think might be favorable to their side.
Most judges in Mississippi have the ability to conduct trials that are fair-minded and competent. The idea that either side in a civil case could go shopping for a more favorable court is an insult to these judges' intelligence, not to mention just plain silly.
But while the lawyers in charge of legislative committees with jurisdiction over tort reform consistently derail reform attempts, another message is grating on the nerves of small businesses all over this state. They see a pharmacist sued because she dispensed legal drugs authorized by a physician's prescription because the drug manufacturer failed to disclose some side effects of taking the medicine. If the lawyers believe they have a legitimate complaint, they should have to attack the manufacturer in his home place.
It is time for legislators to get a grip on "jackpot justice" and realize the long term implications of a system that produces such a black eye. It's time to get Mississippi's economy moving by encouraging small and large businesses to locate or expand here and prosper.
In this time of tight budgets, the need to expand the economy is even more pronounced. Yet we as a state continue to shoot ourselves in the foot by refusing to change a ridiculous legal system that rewards carpetbagger lawyers who trot in, take the money and leave.