Governor, allies fight to protect damage caps

JACKSON – A lawsuit against a convenience store in rural Humphreys County has brought back together a coalition, including Gov. Haley Barbour, that successfully pushed through legislation in 2004 to provide businesses more lawsuit protection.
At issue in the lawsuit is whether the cap placed on non-economic damages, such as pain and suffering, in the 2004 legislation is constitutional.
A Humphreys County Circuit Court jury awarded Ronnie Lee Lymas $4.2 million dollars after he was shot in what was described “a random act of violence” outside a Double Quick convenience store in Belzoni in January 2007.
Circuit Judge Jannie M. Lewis reduced the award to $1.7 million to fit within the 2004 cap.
Lymas has asked the state Supreme Court to declare the cap on non-economic damages unconstitutional.
Barbour and no less than 30 business and medical associations that back the changes in 2004 have filed “friend of the court” briefs asking the state’s highest court not to tamper with the cap.
“Judicial repeal of the non-economic damage caps … would destroy the positive progress made in recent years, crush current economic development and drive away desperately needed jobs in one of the gravest economic times in this nation’s history,” Barbour said.
The associations wrote that they opposed the overturning of the cap because they “have an interest in ensuring that the civil litigation environment in Mississippi is fair and balanced.”
‘Outside constitutional authority’
Jackson attorney Joe Tatum, representing Lymas, said the Legislature and the governor were outside of their constitutional authority in placing restrictions on juries.
Tatum wrote “it was held early on in Mississippi that ‘in actions of torts, the jury is vested exclusively with the power to determine the amount of damages.”
Attorney General Jim Hood also filed a brief defending the constitutionality of the caps on non-economic damages, but took no stance on the other issues in the case. Double Quick is asking the high court to overturn the verdict.
Hood argued that the Supreme Court could overturn legislative acts “only where it appears beyond all reasonable doubt that the statute violated the clear language of the Constitution.”
Hood argued that Lymas “has failed to satisfy this heavy burden.”
The Lymas case marks the second time this year the governor and many of the associations have filed briefs in Supreme Court cases where the 2004 law is at issue.
Earlier the high court rejected their arguments that a man could not file a lawsuit against a medical doctor because he waited too long.

Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal