Barbour challenges ruling in malpractice case

JACKSON – Gov. Haley Barbour is asking the state Supreme Court to reconsider a ruling that he says will slow the progress made during his administration in curbing lawsuit abuse in the 1990s and early 2000s.
Barbour objects to a ruling in a case filed by Nina Price of Cleveland, the wife of the late Albert B. Price Jr., against medical providers in her hometown.
According to court documents, Price had a pituitary brain tumor that went undiagnosed for more than 20 years, resulting in his blindness and other ailments. He died on Aug. 14, 2004, four months after the tumor was discovered.
The case has not been heard yet by a Bolivar County Circuit Court jury, and issues are pending that could result in the case being thrown out.
Some of the complex legal issues surrounding the case already have made their way to the state Supreme Court.
The ruling on those issues has caught the attention of the governor.
Barbour disagrees with the high court’s ruling on whether the case should be rendered null and void because Price’s attorneys did not provide adequate notice, as required by law, to the defendants before filing the lawsuit.
The notice of lawsuit and waiting period of 60-90 days is designed to provide the defendant time to prepare a defense and to give the parties an opportunity to settle outside of the court system.
The high court ruled on July 23 that the case should not be dismissed.
Barbour took the unusual step for a governor of asking the court to reconsider the ruling.
In a news release, Barbour said the Supreme Court ruling, as well as two more recent, similar rulings, “will erode part of the progress Mississippi has made regarding tort reform.”
Barbour took office in 2004 and led a successful legislative effort that year for civil justice system changes to provide businesses and health care providers more protection from lawsuits. Among the changes were caps on non-economic and punitive damages and restrictions on where lawsuits could be filed.
Attorney Chris Posey of Philadelphia, who represents Price, said the issue in the lawsuit is not the cap on punitive damages.
Posey sad, “We can argue about whether tort reform was needed … but I don’t see this case as turning back the clock. I think the court is following well-settled law” in the Price case.
While the case was filed before the conclusion of the waiting period, Posey said the medical providers who were being sued were not served until after that time period. And the lawsuit was refiled months later, well after the notice had been provided to those being sued.
Barbour said the ruling “will increase litigation and insurance costs, while doing nothing to expand the public’s access to justice.”
Earlier this decade, judges supported by those wanting tort reform also were elected. Since those elections, the court has been criticized by some as tilting too much toward the business community and away from the consumer.
Still, in this particular case, eight of the nine justices essentially agreed that the case should not be thrown out because it was filed before the notice time period had expired.
Justice Jess Dickinson, who had the strong backing of the business community during his election effort, said the Supreme Court would be ruling beyond the letter of the law to dismiss the case.

Contact Bobby Harrison at (601) 353-3119 or bobby.harrison@djournal.com.

Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal