Tort "reform" around the South

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Institute for Legal Reform has a new report out this week that ranks states according to their "legal climate," which is code for how business friendly their courts are (rankings are based on corporate lawyer's views of the "litigation climate" in each state).

From the bottom up, West Virginia, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama rank the "worst", presumably meaning people are still able to get justice in the courts there.

Mississippi has moved up from dead last to 48th place, an "improvement" that the U.S. Chamber attributes to "reforms" enacted in the state:

Mississippi's legal climate has shown significant progress, moving up two spots in the 2006 Harris State Liability Systems Ranking Study, according to the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform.

"The comprehensive legal reforms enacted in 2004 truly have made Mississippi open for business," said Tom Donohue, president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.


"There have been some great improvements under Gov. Barbour's leadership and we are trying to help spread the word that Mississippi is now a good place in which to do business," said Donohue.

Not so fast, says this Clarion-Ledger editorial:

Despite adopting sweeping tort reform measures, Mississippi still lags near bottom in its legal climate affecting business, according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, prompting the question: Does this ranking really mean anything?

In its latest ranking, the chamber put Mississippi 48th among the 50 states, rising only two places, ahead of Louisiana and West Virginia, from previous years.

Of course, this is a big improvement from 2002, when business groups listed Mississippi as a "judicial hellhole."

But it falls far short of assurances by Gov. Haley Barbour that Mississippi should now be considered a leader.

Barbour was so praised for reforms to limit jury awards and stop frivolous lawsuits under his watch that he was tapped last year to help the National Association of Manufacturers launch a national reform campaign.

Mississippi should be among the top. But, what's this? It only rose two places? It's considered not last, but nearly last?

The chamber rating is incredible.

So it would seem that the calls for tort "reform" are not having the desired effects, other than limiting the average guy's ability to get justice.

The U.S. Chamber had similar praise for Florida's "progress" in passing bans on "frivolous" asbestos and silica claims. They want the state to further limit who can be sued, though, because an "unfair legal system sucks the life out of a state's economy."

The article also says:

To highlight the results of the study and the need for comprehensive legal reform, ILR is launching a national advertising campaign. In Tallahassee, ILR will run print and billboard ads featuring the message "Please Don't Feed the Trial Lawyers."

There is some good news, though. Intense lobbying by the medical/health care industry in Tennessee was unsuccessful in ramming through legislation to limit "pain and suffering" damages to $250,000. A House judicial subcommittee voted against the measure yesterday:

Yesterday afternoon the Civil Practice Subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee voted 3-2 to reject a bill offered by Rep. Doug Overbey that would have capped pain and suffering awards to medical malpractice victims and placed other limitations on recoveries.


The health care industry reportedly spent $500,000+ on this effort and one of their representatives has told me that they will be back next year. They want caps on damages and will accept nothing less.

The people should accept nothing less than justice for all. Judging by the poor marks given by corporate lawyers, it appears that may still be possible in at least a few Southern states.