Lawsuits Experience Boon

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The rush to beat the deadline and avoid the judgment caps in a new tort reform law in Mississippi gave circuit court officials their busiest month of the year.

Renee Covert, deputy clerk of Lauderdale County Circuit Court, said the number of filings in August was far above average.

"It has been about 20 or 30 more than normal than we have in a month," Covert said. "We usually have 12 to 20 cases a month and we've had over 50 this month."

There were 15 filed Tuesday alone, the last day to file before the new law took effect, and 24 in the past three days. Some of the lawsuits are "class action," involving numerous plaintiffs, one of them against Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing, concerns asbestos and calls for 500 additional John Doe defendants.

"It means they are unnamed defendants at this time," said Covert. "Sometime during the lawsuit, if they come up with other defendant's names, actual companies, they will amend their lawsuits to add those defendants."

One lawsuit involves a person arrested for shoplifting at a local retailer. She was acquitted in court and now is suing the store for $6 million. Some of the other actions have been filed by out of town or out of state lawyers.

"Now some of these bigger lawsuits have been filed actually by attorneys from Texas who have joined in with lawyers from Mississippi, because in order to file here they have to be licensed to practice in the state of Mississippi and several of them are from Texas," said Covert.

Meanwhile, local attorney Steve Kohnke of Bourdeaux and Jones, said the reason for the rush is obvious.

"The legislature passed tort reform. The deadline for filing was the 31st, so attorneys wanted to go ahead and get those suits filed before the new tort reform which has some damage limitations," said Kohnke.

Covert said she has no idea how long it will take to settle all these cases. It could be as long as five to six years.