A court test of tort reform

The tort reform laws championed by Gov. Haley Barbour, and approved by the Legislature shortly after he took office, are about to face a serious test.

Barbour last week filed a brief in an appeal pending with the Mississippi Supreme Court. The case involves a 2007 shooting outside a Belzoni convenience store. Ronnie Lee Lymas, wounded while leaving a Double Quick store, claimed the company didn’t do enough to ensure the safety of its customers.

A jury awarded him actual damages for his medical costs and the like, along with additional non-economic damages that made the total verdict against the company about $4 million. But the judge who presided over the case lowered the non-economic damages to $1 million, which is the limit allowed by the Legislature’s tort reform laws.

A common-sense argument should prevail here. Few if any civil cases should result in non-economic damages exceeding $1 million. Compare any such plaintiff’s “pain and suffering” with that of someone put in prison for a crime he did not commit, and freed only when DNA or other scientific evidence proves his innocence.

In Mississippi, under a law that took effect his year, such a loss of freedom is worth only $50,000 for each year spent in prison, with a cap of $500,000 on the state’s liability. Why does a shooting victim deserve so much more than that?

Greenwood Commonwealth