A tort bonanza?
Dec. 11, 2002
Mississippi's trial lawyers are working overtime during this holiday season to beat a deadline, namely the effective date of reforms in the state's civil justice system. Lawsuits filed after Dec. 31 will fall under the new law, which lends a touch of reasonableness to a system that has otherwise run amuck.
Although the changes were intended to reduce civil litigation, some lawyers plan to jam courthouses in the near future. Plaintiff attorneys say they will accelerate their cases so they're filed before the new rules take effect.
We hope this last round of litigation won't totally overwhelm a civil justice system that already has judges, juries and courts struggling to keep up with the load. But it does say an awful lot about advertising-buying lawyers trying to recruit new clients here at the eleventh hour.
The new law limits punitive jury awards at $20 million for large corporations and less for smaller companies and defendants. Beyond punitive damages, the new law takes away jury damages to compensate families of victims for the loss of enjoyment of life. It also limits damages for pain and suffering in medical malpractice cases.
Unfortunately, too many plaintiff attorneys have already turned to the airwaves, buying television time to recruit more clients and warn that new limits will kick in at the first of the year. In his TV spots, one Jackson attorney refers to tort reform as "Musgrove's law," which is an exaggeration of the truth. It's Mississippi law.
Still, if the debate on tort reform had simply been about protecting legitimate interests, we doubt the reforms would, or could, have become law. Reform would not have been necessary. The debate was and the new law is about fundamental fairness and that's the message that still isn't getting through to the powerful trial lawyers lobby.