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Senate chairman will let proponents of tort reform make case

By Staff
From staff and wire reports
Jan. 16, 2002
JACKSON The chairman of the state Senate Judiciary Committee says he will give proponents of tort reform an opportunity to make their case.
Turner, a trial lawyer, said he is unsure if a compromise can be reached. He said he will "have to see what sort of information or data is available to support the need for it."
Tort reform changing state civil justice laws has made little progress in recent sessions of the Legislature. Bills have been killed in committees run by trial lawyers.
Debate over liability lawsuits dates back to the 1960s, when state courts expanded the rights of claimants.
Courts ruled claimants can make a case against a defendant who sold a product that caused damage without proving the defendant was negligent or involved in intentional wrongdoing.
Business groups say this has been a windfall for trial lawyers. At the same time, trial lawyers and consumer groups argue that stories of a system out of control are overblown.
Nevertheless, members of the Mississippi Legislative Conservative Coalition endorsed tort reform at a news conference on Tuesday. The group of 40 Republicans, Democrats and independents said change is badly needed.
The group also called for limits on abortion, election law reform that includes requiring voter identification at the polls, tax credits for contributions of textbooks and supplies to schools and a sales tax holiday to let shoppers spend without having to pay tax one weekend.
But tort reform has taken the spotlight early in the 2002 Legislature.
Mississippi has become well-known for multimillion-dollar jury awards. Before 1995, the state's largest punitive damage award was $8 million. In the past six years, at least seven jury verdicts have hit $100 million or more.
Mississippi, unlike other Southeastern states, has not adopted limits on jury awards and other new civil liability laws.
Some lawmakers say they agree with business leaders something must change.
Lt. Gov. Amy Tuck, who serves as president of the state Senate, assigned the tort reform bills to Turner's committee. She wouldn't predict whether any legislation would pass.
Tuck said, however, there needs to be a balance between helping business grow and prosper and protecting people's right to go to the courts when they have a grievance.
In the state House, Judiciary A Committee Chairman Percy Watson, D-Hattiesburg, said he plans tort reform hearings. Watson, a lawyer, has said he wants to be careful about tinkering with a system that might not be broken.