Damage Caps v. The Mississippi Constitution: Showdown at the Mississippi Supreme Court

A little known lawsuit that originated in the Mississippi Delta has arrived at the Mississippi Supreme Court and could become a landmark case.

The Double Quick v. Ronnie Lee Lymas case  has the potential to impact pending litigation in a way that resembles John Grisham’s  fictional Pelican Brief case. Ronnie Lee Lymas was attacked while on the premises of a Double Quick store in Humphreys County, Mississippi.  As a result of the attack, Mr. Lymas sustained severe injuries and filed suit against Double Quick.  A Humphreys County jury subsequently awarded Mr. Lymas the sum of $4,179,350.49.  The award was subsequently reduced to $1,679,717.00 by Circuit Judge Janie Lewis.  Judge Lewis threw out all  non-compensatory damages in excess of $1,000,000 in accordance with Section 11-1-60 of the Mississippi Code.

Double Quick appealed the award to the Mississippi Supreme Court on liability and damages grounds.  [Click here to see Double Quick Brief ][Click here for Double Quick Reply Brief ]   Ronnie Lymas cross appealed the reduction in damages on constitutional grounds.   [Click here for Ronnie Lymas Appellee’s Brief]   Numerous parties, including the Governor of the State of Mississippi [Click here for Brief of Governor Haley Barbour in Support of Double Quick] , the Magnolia Bar Association, the Mississippi Homebuilder’s Association, the American Council of Engineering Companies, the National Federation of Independent Businesses, the Mississippi Bankers Association, the Mississippi Hospital Association and Mississippians for Economic Progress and the Hard Rock Casino have filed amicus briefs in the case.   [Brief of Amici Curiae] [Amicus Brief Filed on Behalf of The Magnolia Bar Association]   The Mississippi Attorney General has also filed a brief in the case.  [Brief of the State of Mississippi]

The Constitutional Issue:

Mississippi enacted sweeping tort reform in 2004.  The tort reform included non-compensatory damages caps pursuant to Section 11-1-60 (2).  Mr. Lymas contends that the damage caps violate the Mississippi Constitution and the United States Constitution.   Mr. Lymas claims that the statute violates his  constitutional right to trial by jury, the Separation of Powers clause and the Open Courts clause.  According to Double Quick, the section  does not violate any constitutional right and is a valid exercise of the legislature’s authority. 

The Mississippi Supreme Court:

Appellate courts occasionally render  decisions which define the ideological view of the Court.  The Double Quick, Inc. v. Ronnie Lee Lymas case is an opportunity for the Mississippi Supreme Court to render such a decision. 

This decade has seen a complete shift in Mississippi’s litigation environment.  Mississippi moved from having one of the most active court systems to having a dramatically slowed down court system.  Many believe this shift was caused by the Mississippi Supreme Court. At the beginning of the decade, the Mississippi Supreme Court was seen as indifferent to the business Defendant but  friendly to Plaintiffs.  The Court is now viewed by many as friendly to business Defendants but hostile and/or indifferent to the individual Plaintiff.  

The View of The Plaintiff’s Bar: This is an Opportunity to Level The Playing Field:

Members of the Plaintiff’s Bar believe this case represents an opportunity for the Mississippi Supreme Court to level the playing field.    My discussions with members of the Plaintiff’s Bar reveal that they believe that allowing juries to retain the right to make non-compensatory damage awards is the only way to insure that Plaintiffs will be fairly compensated for their damages.  Plaintiffs’ lawyers argue that pre-tort reform limits on the reasonableness of damage awards are satisfactory to protect Defendants.  Plaintiff’s believe the Mississippi Constitution requires the Courts to trust the juries.

The View of the Defense Bar: The Playing Field Is Already Level: 

Members of the Defense Bar generally believe that Plaintiffs enjoyed a pre-tort reform advantage in the courts.  They believe that the playing field was leveled with the adoption of tort reform and that The Lymas case threatens the economic progress Mississippi has made. Their clients believe this  case represents an opportunity for the Mississippi Supreme Court to demonstrate a commitment to a business friendly climate in Mississippi.  Clients of the Defense Bar are likely to follow this case closely.

To Be Continued…..

Briefing is almost complete.  The Court may order oral argument in the case.  The appeal may ultimately be decided based upon issues other than the constitutional issues. The case may be settled while on appeal.  In any event, the future of this case is uncertain.

Lawyers on both sides of the isle have a lot at stake in this case.  Some Mississippi defense lawyers complain that they are out of work because new lawsuits are not being filed.  Members of the Plaintiffs’ Bar say they refuse to file new lawsuits because they believe the Court is unfairly taking away their judgments on appeal.  Plaintiffs, Defendants and the Mississippi Supreme Court are caught in the middle.

If the Double Quick v. Lymas case results in Section 11-1-60 being declared unconstitutional, many attorneys—on both sides of the debate— will quietly rejoice.  Some members of the Plaintiff’s Bar will rejoice because they will have a renewed incentive to file lawsuits.  Some members of the Defense Bar will be happy because they will have an opportunity to defend new lawsuits.  If the Double Quick v. Lymas case results in Section 11-1-60 being upheld, the business community will undoubtedly claim a solid win.  Either way, this story will not be over until “the fat lady sings” and the “fat lady” in this case is the Mississippi Supreme Court.  Stay tuned………

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3 responses to “Damage Caps v. The Mississippi Constitution: Showdown at the Mississippi Supreme Court

  1. Nice blog. I’ve posted about it, and my reaction to one of the briefs in the Lymans case, on my blog here.

  2. The caps made sloppy any hope to confront the corporate bought-off judicial system of this state. IMO.

  3. Pingback: Mississippi Supreme Court Reverses Trial Court in Lymas Case Without Addressing Constitutionality of Mississippi Damages Caps | Minority Defense Litigator

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