Posted: 5/13/2002 1:15:07 PM EDT
The Wall Street Journal
May 13, 2002
Review & Outlook
Here's something we never thought we'd see: The U.S. Chamber of Commerce warning Americans not to engage in commerce. Yet that's essentially what Chamber President Tom Donohue did in a press conference last week, warning its members not to do business there until Mississippi stops the runaway train that is its legal system.
Mississippi is the notorious home of "jackpot justice," a forum-shopping Nirvana for trial lawyers from every part of the U.S. seeking million-dollar verdicts against asbestos, tobacco, HMOs, doctors, drug companies, anything that moves. At least seven verdicts since 1995 have hit $100 million or more.
[url=http://online.wsj.com/article/0,,SB1020207204859755960,00.html]These columns reported[/url] two weeks ago that malpractice liability is so awful in the state that patients are now suffering because so many doctors are fleeing. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has since called Mississippi one of nine states with a liability crisis that threatens even something as basic as baby delivery.
Mr. Donohue's press conference was all the more remarkable because of the political risk he himself was taking. The Chamber also happens to be a leading supporter of the class-action tort reform bill that recently passed the U.S. House. But to get even a vote on the Senate floor, he can't depend on the Democratic majority, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Association of Trial Lawyers of America. Instead he needs Republican leader Trent Lott, who is from -- Mississippi. Mr. Lott is also a pal of Richard Scruggs, the Mississippi tobacco lawyer-turned-zillionaire.
We hear Mr. Lott urged Mr. Donohue not to go ahead with his Mississippi barrage, which included buying $100,000 in newspaper ads in the state last Thursday. It's a sign of just how damaging to the American economy Mississippi's legal system has become that Mr. Donohue did it anyway. We hope Mr. Lott doesn't seek revenge and refuse to fight for a Senate vote on class actions simply because Mr. Donohue dared to tell the truth about the Senator's home state.
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Updated May 13, 2002