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U.S. Chamber issues warning on lawsuits

By By Buddy Bynum / editor
May 8, 2002
Two congressional incumbents set the stage Tuesday for a first-ever official warning today from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce that Mississippi's business climate has deteriorated into a haven for lawsuit abuse.
From their Washington offices, U.S. Rep. Ronnie Shows and U.S. Chip Pickering spent part of their day in media exchanges on the eve of the U.S. Chamber's announcement at a Jackson news conference. For the two candidates in a hotly contested race for Congress from the state's 3rd District, the messages were similar.
Both said the U.S. Chamber's warning on the state's business climate was unhelpful.
Media wars
According to his press aides, Shows was doing radio and television feeds and interviews throughout the day from his Capitol Hill office. He accused the U.S. Chamber, the 90-year-old national business advocate, of trying to control Mississippi politics and "dictate how people across America view us.
Pickering said, "The U.S. Chamber's comments about Mississippi are not helpful and we deserve better from them. Mississippi has some of the hardest working people in the country and we are all working hard to help create more jobs here.
Shows called on the U.S. Chamber to support Mississippi citizens and businesses instead of warning the rest of the nation against Mississippi litigious climate.
Juvenile'
Pickering campaign manager Henry Barbour called Shows' press release "juvenile."
U.S. Chamber officials said it was the first time in its 90-year history that it had issued a warning against a specific state's attitude toward business.
As the battle of media access and press releases unfolded in Washington, the wheels of the legislative process began to spin, albeit slowly, in Mississippi as Lt. Gov. Amy Tuck and House Speaker Tim Ford announced that a joint legislative committee would study tort reform this summer.
With heavy lobbying from trial lawyers, Mississippi physicians complaining of excessive medical malpractice insurance rates and from businesses citing excessive damage awards, key legislative committee chairmen kept the issue bottled up during the 2002 session.
On Tuesday, state Rep. Percy Watson, whose House Judiciary A Committee considered tort reform legislation last session, told The Associated Press he supports re-examining medical malpractice and tort reform as a whole.
I really felt that during the session that we didn't have enough time to give the subject the attention it deserves,'' said Watson, D-Hattiesburg.
Dr. John Lucas III of Greenwood, who visited Meridian last month, said he had closed his medical practice rather than pay what he called excessive insurance premiums. He said the state's legal climate had caused insurance rates on many businesses to climb. Lucas also faces a multi-million-dollar lawsuit from a former patient.
In media messages of their own, trial lawyers have lambasted physicians and maintained that juries are best suited to determine damages.

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