Bush targets lawsuit abuse
MEET THE PRESIDENT – Barbara Henson of Meridian shakes hands with President Bush. Henson is a small business owner and represents Ward 3 on the Meridian City Council. She was one of 15 people who appeared onstage Wednesday to meet the president. Photo by Paula Merritt/The Meridian Star
By William F. West / community editor
Aug. 8, 2002
MADISON President Bush wants to defeat what he calls a "lawsuit industry" growing in Mississippi at the expense of honest businesses, doctors and hospitals.
Bush, in a speech Wednesday here, called for reforms in the legal system, including limiting the amount of punitive damages to $250,000 in cases of hard-hearted, gross misconduct.
He said the issue is a federal one because of the dollars poured into Medicaid and Medicare programs.
Business leaders, defense lawyers and health care professionals have complained that the Magnolia State has become the "lawsuit Mecca" because trial lawyers have won multi-million dollar verdicts in state courts and are filing even more lawsuits.
Some businesses have gone so far as to seek settlements outside the courtroom to head off additional legal costs.
Many doctors say they are in danger of losing malpractice insurance and more than a few hospital administrators are worried that they will not have enough specialists and surgeons to respond to emergencies. Hospitals, too, face huge increases in liability insurance.
Trial lawyers make no apologies for what they see as forcing big businesses and the health care industry to pay up for ruining the lives of working-class Mississippians with negligent practices.
And while more than a few trial lawyers have won big in state courts, more than a few will point out that they will have far less success in federal courts, particularly the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, because of judges appointed by President Reagan and Bush's father.
President Bush on Wednesday said he believes that "junk and frivolous lawsuits" can ruin an honest business.
But Bush also emphasized that he is not treating dishonest corporations with kid gloves. He told of his sympathy for those who lost their jobs in the downfall of WorldCom and promised to approve more anti-fraud regulations.
He also said that workers should be allowed to diversify their pension accounts so that they will not be forced to keep large amounts of money tied up in company stocks.
Bush also said his administration pledges to win the war against terrorism, protect the nation and seek economic security for all Americans. He also said that security will be strictly enforced at the nation's borders and checkpoints.
He called for the U.S. Senate to send a homeland security bill to his desk so that he can sign it and move ahead with the business of protecting the nation.