More work this week on civil liability

Published 5:00 am Monday, October 14, 2002

The picture surrounding civil justice tort reform remains”jumbled” as state legislators prepared for another week of anextended special session on the tort reform issue, Lincoln Countylawmakers said.

Activity may pick up this week after the Senate sent the House asecond tort reform bill Friday. The session reconvenes Monday at 3p.m.

“We’ll know tomorrow,” said Dist. 92 Rep. Dr. Jim Barnett Sundayevening.

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Dist. 53 Rep. Bobby Moak, however, said a number of rumors havebeen flying regarding the possibility of a new bill dealing withsmall loans. There has been discussion of giving financialinstitutions some protection from civil liability, even in cases ofalleged intentional wrongdoing.

“No one has seen anything, but there’s been an awful lot ofactivity regarding that and that issue,” Moak said.

Moak said special interests groups appear to have beensuccessful in splitting that issue out from other tort reformdiscussions.

“There’s a lot of special interests roaming the Capitol halls,”Moak said.

Moak did not know how the small loan issue would play outagainst other issues.

“It just adds another very powerful group that’s pushing theiragenda,” Moak said.

Regarding tort reform, Moak said he wasn’t for protectingcorporate America. He left open the door for helping smallbusinesses.

“There’s been an effort to protect small Mississippicorporations,” Moak said. “I’m not opposed to that.”

Barnett said he preferred the Senate bill over one passed by theHouse.

“It’s a better bill, and I’ll sure support it,” Barnettsaid.

The new Senate bill caps punitive damage awards at the greaterof either three times the economic damages or $5 million. The firstbill had a $3 million cap.

For smaller companies, those with fewer than 50 employees,punitive damages would not exceed two times economic damages, or $2million, or 3 percent of the defendant’s net worth, whichever isgreater.

The Senate version also would cap jury awards for non-economicdamages such as pain and suffering, and death at $500,000. Therewas similar provision similar in a medical malpractice reform billsigned into law last week.

With the exception of several days, Lawmakers have been inspecial session since Sept. 5 working on medical malpractice tortreform. Barnett did not know how long they would be dealing withcivil justice matters.

“I hope it doesn’t take as long as the medical malpracticesession,” Barnett said.