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Another shameful exhibit tests civil justice system

By Staff
Jan. 7, 2002
Instead of giving awards to trial lawyers who win $100 million damage suits from rural Mississippi juries against legitimate businesses, maybe what we need is a "wall of shame." The Hazlehurst lawyer who convinced a Claiborne County jury to award the judgment against drug maker Janssen and its parent company, Johnson &Johnson, is a case in point.
Lawyer Jim Shannon was recognized by the publication Lawyers Weekly for winning the first jury verdict involving the heartburn medicine Propulsid. The publication named him one of the nation's 10 most influential attorneys in 2001.
In September, a jury in Claiborne County awarded $100 million in compensatory damages to 10 of Shannon's clients, who contended they suffered from anxiety, heart conditions and other health problems after using Propulsid. Shannon has until next week to submit briefs to Circuit Judge Lamar Pickard to justify the amount of damages. The judge did not allow punitive damages.
Shannon is also preparing for another Propulsid trial in Claiborne County, possibly in May, involving 10 more plaintiffs. The lawyers' publication says that case could prove even more lucrative because it involves two deaths.
Lucrative for whom? Certainly for the lawyer who stands to collect some $33 million if he gets the usual third of the cut. Not so lucrative for Johnson &Johnson, the corporation or its shareholders, nor for drug maker Janssen.
Claiborne County is the venue of choice for trial lawyers seeking huge damage awards from juries that seem ambivalent about the implications of their actions. If this trend continues in Mississippi, many businesses will simply get sued out of business the jobs they provide will be lost and other businesses looking to locate in our state will make a more exacting examination of whether they really want to be in a state with no limits on potential damage awards.
There is something inherently wrong with a legal system whose "outstanding" members are awarded when they successfully win large damage awards from business interests. Should a physician be rewarded if his patient lives but the hospital dies? Should a teacher be rewarded if his students pass but the school fails? This state's system of civil justice is clearly out of control.
Surely the legitimate health interests of people who take prescription medication that has been approved by the U.S. government can be protected even if there was a ceiling on compensatory damages.
There should be no applause in the high theater of Mississippi's civil justice system. Any business is a potential target and all business interests need to mobilize now to convince the Legislature to make constructive reforms.
Monday in The Meridian Star:
The president of the Mississippi Bar defends his profession in a forceful letter to the editor.