Tort Reform Act of 2004

Tort Reform Act of 2004

Mississippi has always been known for low taxes, strategic location and a skilled workforce. Now you can add something else to your list of reasons to do business in Mississippi: a fair legal climate.

The Tort Reform Act of 2004 ensures fairness in the courtroom for everyone. Not only does that mean better business conditions, it also translates into better jobs and healthcare for Mississippians.

Overview House Bill 13

By House of Representative legal staff
2004 1st Special Session
Effective 9/1/04, except as noted.

Sections 1 - 7 apply to all causes of action filed on or after September 1, 2004.

SECTION 1. Venue (Section 11-11-3)

1. Venue for civil actions is proper: where the defendant resides, or for corporations, in the county of the corporation's principal place of business or where a substantial act, omission or event occurred or where the defendant obtained a defective product. If none of the above apply to a nonresident defendant, venue is proper where the plaintiff resides or is domiciled.
2. Each plaintiff independently must establish proper venue.
3. Venue for malpractice actions against a medical provider is proper where the act or omission occurred. (House Bill 2 of 2002, 3rd ex. session)
4. Forum non conveniens provides that a court may decline to adjudicate if proper venue lies in another court, and lists the factors the court is to consider in deciding whether to dismiss the case, if the proper forum is in another state, or to transfer the case to the court of the appropriate county. The plaintiff's rights are protected by requiring waiver of any running of the statute of limitations to obtain dismissal.

SECTION 2. Noneconomic damages caps (Section 11-1-60)

1. The definition of "noneconomic damages" is redefined to include disfigurement.
2. Noneconomic damages for medical malpractice are capped at $500,000; the escalation provision of current law is removed.
3. Noneconomic damages in all other civil causes of action are capped at $1,000,000.

SECTION 3. Innocent seller (Section 11-1-63)

This amends the product liability law to immunize innocent retailers.

SECTION 4. Punitive Damages (Section 11-1-65)

1. Caps punitive damages based on the defendant's net worth as follows:

Net Worth Cap
$0-$50 million 2% defendant's net worth
$50-$100 million $2,500,000
$100-$500 million $3,750,000
$500-$750 million $5,000,000
$750 million-$1 billion $15,000,000 - current law
more than $1 billion $20,000,000 - current law

2. Retains current law that the caps do not apply to acts occurring while the defendant was committing a felony or under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

SECTION 5. Premises owner (Section 11-1-66)

Replaces current premises owner law with premises owner immunity for death or injury to a contractor or the contractor's employees if the contractor knew or should have known of the danger.

SECTION 6. Allocation of fault (Section 85-5-7)

1. Liability will be several
2. Prohibits reallocation of fault assigned to an immune tort-feasor or a tort-feasor whose liability is limited by law.

SECTION 7. Repeals (Section 11-1-64)

Provides procedure for dismissing a defendant whose liability is based solely on his status as a seller in the stream of commerce).

SECTIONS 8 - 15 These sections deal with juries and jury service; the effective date for these sections is January 1, 2007.

SECTION 8. Jury Exemptions (Section 13-5-23)

Amended to tighten available exemptions from the duty of jury service.

SECTION 9.  Panel Juror (Section 13-5-25)

Amended to delete the provision that anyone who has served on the regular panel as a juror in an actual trial within the past 2 years shall serve as a tales juror if there is a shortage of potential jurors.

SECTION 10. Exemptions Explanation (Section 13-5-28)

Amended to require a jury summons to include instructions explaining in layman's terms the exemptions from jury service provided in Section 13-5-23.

SECTION 11. Punishment (Section 13-5-34)

Amended to increase the punishment for failure to appear for or complete jury service. The offense is changed from criminal to civil contempt, and the fine is increased from a maximum of $100 to a maximum of $500. The court may also order community service.

SECTION 12. Wage Fund (Section 25-7-61)

Amended to create a Lengthy Trial Fund to pay full or partial wage replacement or supplementation to jurors who serve on trials lasting longer than 10 days. No funding is provided for this program, but the bill makes clear that no county funds are required.

SECTION 13. National Guard Exemption (Section 33-1-5)

Amends the jury exemption for members of the National Guard (Section 33-1-5) to apply only to those Guardsmen on active duty.

SECTION 14. Postponement of Duty

Allows those summoned for jury duty to postpone the date of their jury service and requires the Administrative Office of Courts to promulgate rules for the implementation of this right.

SECTION 15. Small Business Postponement of Duty

Provides employment protection for jurors and potential jurors, and provides automatic postponement of a person's jury service of an employee of an employer with fewer than 6 full time employees if another employee has been summoned for the same period. The bill provides that violation of the provisions prohibiting juror intimidation, adverse employment action, or forced use of leave for jury service is a contempt of court punishable as such.

Section 16. Patient Rights

Amends Section 73-25-27 to provide to a patient the right to be present at the disciplinary hearing of a physician who has caused bodily harm to the patient.

Section 17. Medical Privilege Waiver

In medical malpractice actions with multiple defendants, the medical privilege shall be considered waived by and between all defendants.

Section 18. Bench Trial

Allows parties to agree to a bench trial which shall be commenced within 270 days after the action is filed.

Read the Bill in its full form at the Mississippi Legislator's Site.