Mississippi Supreme Court to determine constitutionality of law that limits large jury verdicts
Mississippi: Time has revealed some loopholes in a law that the Mississippi legislature passed almost 10 years ago which caps the amount of damages that jurors can award in civil cases to $1 million. The cap, however, does not apply to damages for economic losses (such as the costs of continued medical expenses or income lost over one's lifetime), which is how a Smith County jury was able to award $322 million earlier this month to a man who claimed his lung disease was a result of asbestos dust. The limitations only apply to noneconomic, or punitive, damages. Also, jury awards can be appealed to the Supreme Court. Many cases that result in large jury awards were filed prior 2002 and 2004, when the limitations were enacted.
The 5th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, however, has questioned the constitutionality of this Mississippi law. A case in which a woman sued Sears, Roebuck and Co. after a collision with one of the company's vans is going before the Mississippi Supreme Court on June 14, 2011. A federal District Court had awarded Lisa Learmont a total of $4 million in damages. $2.2 of this was originally for noneconomic damages, but a federal judge reduced these noneconomic damages to $1 million. The 5th Circuit Court denied a new trial, but submitted a query to the Supreme Court asking whether the state law that limits damages is constitutional. The Governor Haley Barbour also filed a brief with the Supreme Court, affirming the legitimacy of the law. He said, "The noneconomic damage caps and other tort reform measures leveled the playing field for all litigants, ensured fair and predictable results, averted a health care crisis and attracted new businesses to the State."