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Political drums: Tort reform deal negotiated

By By Sid Salter / syndicated columnist
Aug. 21, 2002
What's going to happen in the upcoming special session on tort reform? Your guess is as good as mine, but here's what I'm hearing from the political drums on all sides:
The Joint Legislative Study Committee has held an impressive slate of political dog-and-pony shows designed to allow lawmakers to be able to earnestly say that they listened to all sides before making their recommendations.
In the final analysis, the tort reform study committee is merely a political prop. The standing House and Senate Judiciary committees still dominated by trial lawyers will still control any tort reform action that comes before the Legislature in a special session.
Musgrove controls call'
Gov. Ronnie Musgrove has met privately with doctors and trial lawyers in pursuit of his own tort reform agenda one that may or may not have anything remotely to do with legislative recommendations. It won't contain caps.
Because Musgrove controls any special session by virtue of his constitutional ability to narrowly define a special session "call" down to the very statutes that can be debated, look for Musgrove to define the tort reform special session in such a narrow manner that will only allow lawmakers to enact some rudimentary reforms regarding doctors and medical malpractice but none of substance on mass torts as it involves the state's business community or corporations.
It appears that a deal is in the works between Musgrove, his trial lawyer political donors and key members of the medical community that will accomplish most all the medical malpractice reforms doctors are seeking, save caps on non-economic damages.
The business community which worked hard and spent furiously to build tort reform into a statewide issue by joining hands with the medical community appears to be poised to be left at the political altar by the doctors.
Tort reforms that are likely to pass in the special session include:
1) Protection for doctors who correctly prescribe U.S. Food and Drug Administration-approved drug;
2) Elimination or reduction of venue shopping;
3) Limits on joint and several liability; and,
4) Adoption of a medical review board for medical malpractice cases. More than half a loaf …
Trial lawyers won't like any of these reforms on medical malpractice cases, but they will make a great show of reluctantly going along with it to protect what they see as the Big Enchilada mass tort cases against corporations. Look for absolutely nothing to come out of the special session that remotely threatens the current mass tort environment in Mississippi.
Party on, trial lawyers …
Declare victory and scram
At the end of the special session, Musgrove and key legislative leaders particularly trial lawyers and doctors will "high-five" and rejoice that Mississippi has finally achieved a victory on tort reform and declare that it's time to move forward. Oh, how noble …
The business community, banks and corporations will scream bloody murder and attack the entire process as a farce. The tort reform issue won't die, but rather escalate in the fall headed into the 2003 regular session.
Legislative leaders loyal to the trial lawyer lobby will join with Musgrove in reacting to the wails of the business community by saying that the state faces other pressing problems after spending all summer dealing with tort reform and allow mass tort and business reform proposals to again die in the standing committees. Tut-tut, can't be helped …
Unless the rank-and-file lawmakers join forces to bypass the Judiciary committees on the legislative floor, that's the end of the story on tort reform for now.
Of course, that's just my opinion an educated guess. It could be even worse.