The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals held late last month that Mississippi’s $1 million limit on noneconomic damages in personal injury and product liability cases is constitutional.
The case, Learmonth v. Sears, Roebuck & Co., revolved around an incident where a Mississippi woman was seriously injured after being hit by a Sears delivery truck. The jury in that case sided with Learmonth, awarding her $4 million in damages. Unfortunately, the jury never broke down the award, failing to itemize how much of the total was for economic versus noneconomic damages. When the case made its way to a U.S. district court, the judge interpreted the award as having awarded $2.2 million for noneconomic damages. Given the state’s cap on such awards, Learmonth had her $2.2 million reduced down to $1 million.
Understandably unhappy with the turn of events, especially given the jury’s clear belief that Sears was in the wrong and owed Learmonth considerable money to compensate her for the harm she suffered, Learmonth appealed. Her attorneys argued that the cap violated the state’s constitutional guarantee to a jury trial as well as presenting a problem with the issue of separation of powers. Learmonth argued that the cap on damages denied the jury its rightful power to decide a case, including the damages associated with that case. Furthermore, because the legislature passed the law which serves to circumvent the judicial process, Learmonth claimed the legislation violated the constitutionally required separation of powers.
The Fifth Circuit found that there was no violation of the right to trial by jury. The Court said that Learmonth failed to demonstrate any violation to the Mississippi Constitution and that there was no problem with separation of powers. The Court said that by its very nature, legislative action can impact judicial proceedings, but that is not the same thing as legislative interference with the functions of the judiciary.
Though the case never specifically addressed the issue of medical malpractice damage caps, many legal experts believe the ruling is clear that those too would likely be found constitutional. Mississippi currently has a $1 million noneconomic damages cap in place with regard to product liability cases and a $500,000 cap in place with regard to noneconomic damages for medical malpractice cases.
Though plaintiffs’ attorneys argued vehemently that such limits serve only to protect misbehaving companies and doctors, shielding them from truly punitive jury verdicts, the court remained unconvinced. The verdict is a shame for those truly injured individuals in Mississippi who now find themselves limited on how much they can collect from others who caused them enormous harm.
Many Mississippi personal injury attorneys view the state’s damage caps as unfair restraints on the will of juries. By blunting the impact that large verdicts can have against wrongdoers, the law is bad for consumer rights. If you have been injured and you have a personal injury claim, please contact the Mississippi personal injury lawyers atKilpatrick & Philley at (601) 856-7800.
Source: “Fifth Circuit upholds Miss. limit on noneconomic damages in personal injury cases,” by Jessica Karmasek, published at LegalNewsLine.com.
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