Ruling Could Have Major Impact on Tort Reform - - Jackson, MS

Jackson 02/20/04

Ruling Could Have Major Impact on Tort Reform

By Davis Brister

Doctors and lawyers are calling Thursday's state Supreme Court ruling one that will forever change our court system. Justices ruled that dozens of people who are suing a drug company should not have joined together to file the suit. Some people think that may mean the end of class action lawsuits in our state.

Dr. Tom Joiner says a class action lawsuit is a painful experience. He's been target of one before.

"It's a totally helpless feeling. It's a degrading feeling," said Joiner.

Thursday, Mississippi 's Supreme Court said doctors like Joiner should suffer no more. In a landmark ruling stemming from a Jones County case, Justice Kay Cobb wrote for the majority, "We hold today that the prescribing of the drug Propulsid by 42 different physicians to 56 different patients did not arise out of the same transaction...that joined in this case unfairly prejudices the defendants."

Cases like this are not new. Many times, like in the Jones County case, out of dozens of plaintiffs, only one will be from that county. The rest are added from other towns and even states. One lawyer says that's because there's been a grey area surrounding the issue.

"When a lawyer is advising his client as to what legal remedies are available and what venues you can have those tried in, you have some better guidelines," said former trial lawyer president Lance Stevens.

Stevens says he will live with the ruling, but also said, "I think this decision eliminates the tort reform movement."

Dr. Joiner wouldn't go that far, but says if this ruling had been around a couple of years ago, the debate between doctors and lawyers over tort reform would not have been so heated.

"There's no doubt that these mass lawsuits is what fueled a lot of what we've seen these last two years," Joiner said.

Stevens is concerned that people who cannot afford an attorney will have a hard time suing someone without being able to join a class action suit. And he says we may see more single cases filed in every county, which could eventually bog down the court system.

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