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New Mississippi Law Caps Jury Awards

June 17, 2004|From Associated Press

JACKSON, Miss. — Gov. Haley Barbour signed a law Wednesday to limit large jury awards, saying it was a big step forward in erasing the state's image as a haven for eye-popping verdicts.

"Mississippi has been named for three years in a row the worst state in the country for lawsuit abuse. And the Legislature changed this perception overnight," the Republican governor said during a ceremony in the Capitol.

The American Tort Reform Assn. last year labeled the state a "judicial hellhole" because of large jury awards.

Barbour, a former Republican National Committee chairman, was elected in November. He vowed in his campaign to change Mississippi's civil justice system.

The legislation, which takes effect Sept. 1, was approved during a quarrelsome special session that ended June 8. More than 200 business leaders, lawmakers and others who had lobbied for the changes applauded as Barbour signed the bill Wednesday.

The law caps pain-and-suffering damage awards at $1 million in most lawsuits. It keeps the $500,000 pain-and-suffering cap adopted in 2002 for medical malpractice cases -- but it erases a cost-of-living provision that would have increased the cap over the years.

Trial lawyers and consumer advocates say it limits compensation for people who are hurt by faulty products or others' negligence. They also called it "political payback" to big businesses that backed Barbour.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Institute for Legal Reform ran ads in newspapers Wednesday praising the new law and saying the state was "open for business."

Barbour echoed that sentiment, saying Mississippi would be a friendlier place for business because it would be less prone to "outrageous" jury awards.

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