Tort case pending before federal appeals court

By The Associated Press

JACKSON — A federal appeals court is weighing its options in a pending civil damages case from Mississippi.

The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals had delayed a decision in the case while the Mississippi Supreme Court mulled a question involving the constitutionality of the state’s limits on noneconomic damages.

This past week, the Mississippi court said it did not have enough information to decide whether the state’s limit on noneconomic damages — as applied to a federal lawsuit — is constitutional.

Now, attorneys for both sides, in letters filed with the New Orleans court over the past week, have asked the 5th Circuit to rule in their favor.

Lisa Learmonth filed suit in federal court after she was injured in a collision with a Sears van near Philadelphia, Miss., in 2005.

A federal jury in 2008 determined Sears was liable for Learmonth’s injuries and awarded $4 million in damages but the panel did not itemize how much of the award was noneconomic damages.

Learmonth and Sears agreed $2.2 million of the verdict was for noneconomic damages. A federal judge reduced that part of the damages to $1 million in line with Mississippi law.

Attorneys for Learmonth told the 5th Circuit that the Mississippi court’s action means Learmonth should receive the full damage award decided by the federal jury.

Sears’ attorneys said the Mississippi court’s decision was meant not to tie the 5th Circuit’s hands in addressing the noneconomic damages question. They said noneconomic damages limitation should be upheld.

The $1 million cap on noneconomic damages applies to what a jury can award someone for such things as pain and suffering. The limits on damages were adopted by Mississippi lawmakers after years of contentious wrangling over tort changes.

Noneconomic damages under Mississippi law do not include punitive damages.

There is no cap on damages for economic losses, such as how much the person could have expected to earn in his or her lifetime or for such things as continuing medical expenses.

The initial limits on lawsuit awards came in 2002. The law was amended in 2004 amid complaints that the initial changes didn’t go far enough.