Mississippi to Limit Punitive Damages

Mississippi, a state with a reputation for eye-popping verdicts in product liability cases, is now capping punitive damages meant to punish wrongdoing in those cases.

Gov. Ronnie Musgrove signed a bill Tuesday that limits punitive damages to $20 million for the largest corporations, and less on a sliding scale for smaller companies.

The new law will create a "fair, level playing field,'' Musgrove said in signing the measure. "A message has been sent to the rest of the world about doing business in Mississippi.''

At least seven jury verdicts in Mississippi have hit $100 million or more in the past few years.

Business groups had pressed for the protections, warning that Mississippi's role as a magnet for negligence lawsuits and a recent spate of large verdicts were costing jobs and scaring away employers.

Trial lawyers had opposed it, arguing that the state's legal system worked fine and that a few unusually large jury awards in recent years were not reasons for major changes.

Plaintiffs' lawyers have often chose Mississippi as the site to pursue lawsuits because most other Southeastern states had capped jury verdicts, and because they hoped to tap into a traditional Southern populist hostility toward big business.

The new law also limits multiple lawsuits by cities and counties against gun manufacturers, discourages out-of-state plaintiffs from joining pending lawsuits, and limits some advertising by out-of-state lawyers.

In early October, Musgrove signed another bill that limited jury awards against doctors, hospitals and nursing homes.

Both bills take effect on Jan. 1.