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franklin county times

The endless special session

By By Sen. Videt Carmichael
Dec. 1, 2002
As you no doubt know by now, the Mississippi Legislature was able, after weeks of hard work, to reach an agreement on civil justice reform in our state for both the medical community and the business community, which should help ensure safe, effective medical care for everyone in the state and a business climate that will help us grow and prosper.
The goal all along was to help the medical community provide affordable and accessible health care for all Mississippians and protect our state's businesses from outrageous jury awards.
Many of us thought all along that these were issues of fairness and that it is what we fought for through this very difficult session.
The medical malpractice legislation approved by the Legislature and signed by the governor limits where lawsuits can be filed to the county where the malpractice or omission took place. This is an effort to stop the filing of mass claims by national groups and return Mississippi courts to Mississippians.
The bill also limits the liability of any party or person to only their percentage of fault. In other words, if a jury finds someone only 10 percent liable for damage caused, that person is only responsible to pay for 10 percent of the damages. If a person is found to be 30 percent or more at fault, their liability is for up to 50 percent of the damages. This is a big step from current law where a person found only 1 percent at fault could be forced to pay up to 50 percent of the damage award.
The legislation caps punitive damages at $500,000 until 2011 when the cap moves to $750,000 and remains at that rate until 2017, when it becomes $1 million.
There is no cap on actual economic damages or for disfigurement.
Also, the bill provides protection to pharmacists, doctors and other medical practitioners for prescribing drugs that have been approved by the federal government.
The legislation protects medical records held by nursing homes unless asked for by a patient's relative, representative or health care provider.
The legislation protects doctors and other health care providers by providing immunity from liability if they provide health care at schools and other special volunteer activities.
The bill we approved and sent to the governor for general business is similar to the bill for medical malpractice. It limits the venue where suits can be brought to the county where the defendant lives or where the action occurred. Civil suits may be brought in the county where the product was purchased.
The bill eliminates joint liability for non-economic damages the same as in the medical malpractice bill. The legislation protects a seller who is not responsible for manufacturing a faulty product and imposes a cap on punitive damages through a graduated scale up to $20 million, depending on the defendant's net worth.
The cap, it is important to note, does not apply if the defendant is convicted of a felony which caused the damages or the event occurred while the defendant was under the influence of alcohol or drugs that were not legally prescribed.
The legislation grants immunity to a business owner for failing to prevent criminal acts by a third party if they had no way of knowing about or deterring that act. Among other provisions, the bill includes a fine of $1,000 for filing a frivolous lawsuit and prohibits advertising by attorneys not licensed to practice in Mississippi.
These are the highlights of the bill.
I arrived in Jackson ready to work and reach the agreements needed to make sure Mississippi's business and medical communities had the protection they need and deserve to continue to operate in the state, while at the same time protecting our citizens' right to access the courts and redress grievances.
After talking with many of you, it was apparent that we had to have reasonable and meaningful tort reform. I'm proud we were able to achieve that.
Sen. Videt Carmichael,
R-Meridian, represents State Senate District 33.