Conflicting Info about Tort Reform

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In a story about tort reform Monday, USA Today listed 13 U.S. court locations it said were overly friendly to consumer lawsuits.

Two were in Mississippi: Jefferson, Claiborne and Copiah Counties; and Holmes and Hinds Counties.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce also sent out a news release listing Mississippi as the most unfair legal system in the country.

Rep. Greg Snowden of Meridian said one malpractice bill has passed.

"They finally came forward with a bill to provide better malpractice insurance for physicians that treat Medicaid patients," Snowden said.
"It turns out it only benefits about 125 physicians statewide."

However, the state did not have one jury award in the nation's Top 100 in 2003.

"Things aren't as bad as people say," said Mississippi Trial Lawyers Association president John Christopher.

Snowden says there is another tort reform bill before the state legislature.

"The only tort reform bill that's been passed as far as I know has been passed by the Senate. We have a bill in the House. As I said, that's much similar to the Senate bill that has 60 co-sponsors. Well there are only 122 members of the House so 61 is half. And there's no question that at least another dozen or so would vote for the bill if it came to the floor," said Snowden.

But the chairman of the Judiciary A committee, where the bill is currently assigned has said it will not be released for a floor vote. He is Rep. Ed Blackman of Canton, himself a trial lawyer.

Last week, House members changed the rules governing forcing a bill out of a committee when the chairman refuses to release it. Formerly it could be done with a simple majority. Now it takes a two-thirds vote or 82 members.

"If a majority of the House prior to the rules change had said okay, we want to petition that bill out and have a vote, the majority could have compelled that to happen. Now it will take two thirds to have that happen. So instead of 62 you need 82," said Snowden.

And that, Snowden concluded, is not likely to happen.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, for the third year in a row, ranked Mississippi 50th in the nation Monday in terms of legal fairness.

At the same time, the National Law Journal's annual survey showed there was not a single jury verdict in Mississippi in 2003 in the top 100.

Tort reform laws went into effect Jan. 1, 2003. It is unlikely that it had much impact last year because those lawsuits were filed before the legislation was enacted.

Legal experts attribute the decline to jurors more critically examining claims and an anti-lawsuit climate.

The U.S. Chamber said it is launching a national advertising campaign highlighting the results the Institute for Legal Reform's survey of more than 1,400 senior attorneys of public corporations and insurance companies.

Thomas Donohue, the chamber president, said the survey ranked Mississippi, West Virginia and Alabama with the lowest-rated legal systems in the country.

Donohue said businesses go where they are wanted and they bring jobs and economic growth to the state with the best legal systems.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.