June 16, 2004
Mississippi Lawsuit Legislation Pushed by Barbour
Is Political Payback to Big Business
Statement of Joan Claybrook, President, Public Citizen
In signing a bill limiting lawsuits today, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour has cast aside the interests of Mississippi residents in favor of the business interests who have helped him get to where he is. The bill, which Barbour rammed through the state legislature during a special two-week session, caps medical malpractice damages at $500,000 without adjusting for inflation, caps pain and suffering awards (now including disfigurement) in civil cases at $1 million and further caps punitive damages. It is political payback, pure and simple, and is designed to give big business – from which Barbour raised millions over the years as chair of the Republican National Committee – a free ride.
The caps will punish those who are most seriously injured by medical malpractice, dangerous products, or negligent or fraudulent company practices and thus should receive larger awards for their injuries. It will discriminate against children, seniors, homemakers and others who have little or no lost wages to recover. The legislation will do little or nothing to slow the increases in malpractice insurance premiums for doctors because all available evidence shows that insurance company pricing policies, not damage awards, are the cause of premium hikes. Instead, the measure is a vehicle to shield companies and doctors from being held accountable for the harm they do to consumers and patients.
It appears as though the “I'll scratch your back, you scratch mine” system is alive and well in Mississippi. Not only has Barbour bestowed a gift on his business pals, but they can return the favor. When Barbour became governor, he removed himself as an active partner and lobbyist in his firm, which brought in $13.1 million in business in 2003, but he retains a financial stake in it through a blind trust. When his gubernatorial term ends, he can buy back his rights to the firm, and he will receive the money in the trust, which increases as the firm gets more business. Mississippi law has no requirement for disclosing the assets in the blind trust.
Left behind without recourse are Mississippi consumers and patients. But Barbour clearly isn’t experiencing any pain and suffering.