Personal injury legislation is intended to compensate the victim of an accident for the consequences of that accident, but where does a state draw the line? Can a severely injured person who has been so traumatized by an accident claim millions of dollars in compensation? Is there a difference between an accident caused by someone who never intended to hurt anyone and someone else who was so full of malice that their actions inevitably led to the victim’s physical and mental distress?
These questions have been addressed in varying ways by the different states. It can be a controversial topic. States try and create a balance which allows for fair compensation yet prevents an over lenient judge from awarding a huge payout. In Mississippi, there are caps on both the non-economic components of a personal injury lawsuit, i.e. the pain and suffering component and the punitive damages component if there is one. Mississippi is not the only state that imposes caps on these components of a claim, but there is opposition to caps of any sort from some and there is no certainty that Mississippi’s caps will remain forever.
Why impose a cap on non-economic damages?
A personal injury claim is made up of two main components: economic and non-economic damages.
Economic damages are those parts of the claim that can generally easily be demonstrated financially. They include medical costs, lost earnings and compensation for property damage. The main priority when claiming for these damages is to prove that they were justified, that they were needed because of an injury caused by someone else’s negligent actions and that the amounts can be demonstrated by tangible evidence such as invoices, receipts etc.
Non-economic damages are not as easily demonstrated. Take the “pain and suffering” component, for example. How do you measure in monetary terms just how much the shock of the accident, the physical and emotional pain caused by the injury has cost the accident victim? Most personal injury claims do in fact include a component for pain and suffering. There are different ways of calculating an amount to be used in a claim such as the multiplier method. Whatever method is used it will be capped at $1 million by Mississippi law. Medical malpractice cases are a bit different, as the state imposes a cap of only $500,000 on any pain and suffering claim.
The other non-economic component, punitive damages, is less commonly claimed. To successfully claim punitive damages, it must be shown that the defendant showed gross negligence and / or showed willful disregard for the safety of others. Someone who was drunk or affected by drugs and hit another vehicle is a typical example of a person who could be sued for punitive damages as well as everything else already mentioned.
Like other components of a personal injury claim, there must be clear proof that the person being sued was definitely the person who caused the injury. In the case of punitive damages, there must be proof that gross negligence was involved.
The state imposes a separate cap on punitive damages. This depends on the net worth of the defendant. For someone whose worth is calculated to be less than $50 million, the cap is 2% of that person’s total net worth. A sliding scale is used for those whose net worth is greater than $50 million but capped at $2.5 million.
The legal debate about the constitutionality of the state’s caps on non-economic damages
Lisa Learmonth contested a federal court ruling in 2013 that reduced the pain and suffering amount claimed in her lawsuit against Sears & Roebuck to the $1 million allowed by state law. Learmonth had been badly injured in an accident in which she had been hit by a van driven by a Sears & Roebuck employee. Her argument was that the state’s cap was unconstitutional as it went against the separation of powers between state and the judiciary. She argued that the amount awarded should only be determined by a judge and jury.
The case went before the state’s Supreme Court but was rejected. Similar cases in other states where there is a cap on non-economic damages have also been rejected, but it is thought that the constitutionality to do so may be tried eventually by the U.S. Supreme Court
Call an experienced accident attorney if injured in a Mississippi accident
If you, or a member of your family, have been injured through no fault of your own anywhere in the state, you should make an appointment with a Jackson based personal injury attorney to discuss the possibility of filing a personal injury claim. Call the Diaz Law Firm in Jackson MS as soon as you can at 601-607-3456.