Tort Reform & Mississippi: A Fevered Narrative

*** This article is hyperbolic and factually relaxed. It is intended to entertain and does not accurately represent the views of the author***

[Location: Jackson, MS (19th floor of an office); Date: June 12, 2023 (3:06 PM); Activity: Listening to a weathered, grandfather-like attorney (age 35)]

“You see that street down there?” he said, pointing down at State Street from an office window high above the city, “It used to be lined with Plaintiff’s Firms from one end to the other. Most of them had Ferraris parked in front.”

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Ferrari in Mississippi.”

“Yeah, the dealership is gone now. The craziest part about the whole thing is that the Defense Firms helped pass it. They pushed for the Bills that ended up cutting their work in half.”

In 2002, 60 Minutes ran a special in which Mississippi was billed as “The Lawsuit Capital of the World.”

{Momma, we finally made it! The spotlight’s on us, baby. Idaho’s got potatoes; Georgia has the peaches; Kentucky, keep your Bourbon: because we, we have the lawsuits. And lawsuits are worth more than all that other junk anyways.}

Much like America itself, this story started with tobacco. When The Plaintiff’s Bar hit Big Tobacco for $4 billion in 1997, there was blood in the water. The People were hungry, and attorneys were lining up to make sure they (The People) got a bite. A few large settlements later and out-of-town lawyers started rushing in like it was Sutter’s Mill in ’48 (the one in the 1800s). In the early 2000s, more lawyers took the Mississippi bar exam than graduated from every law school in Mississippi combined. Mississippi was a modern-day plaintiff’s Mecca.

{Sure, some labeled us a “judicial hellhole,” but we wore that label proudly. Hellhole? Hellhole!? We were a hellhole much in the same way that—like hell is to impenitent sinners—we were a place of judgment for The Corporations, a place where they finally had to face the deserved and righteous consequences of their sins.}

 And face them they did: From 1994 to 2000, Mississippi was ranked only behind New York as the state with the highest number of jury verdicts over $1 million per capita. Mississippi went from having zero verdicts over $9 million before 1995, to twenty-one verdicts over $9 million between 1995 and 2002 (including seven over $100M).

But this gold rush was too good to last forever. {An emu looks away ashamedly.} You see, the Corporations didn’t like losing money. Losing money is literally the opposite of what they were created for—their core purpose. So, they started getting nervous. They looked at their balance sheets, felt the hairs prickle up on the backs of their necks, and said,

“Mississippi? Mississippi!?? That’s the kind of backwater, poverty-riddled s%$#hole we’re supposed to be siphoning money out of. Not putting back in! What will the investors think if we can’t get a handle on Mississippi, for Christ’s sake??? Somebody get Big Tobacco on the phone! Now!”

Around the same time, The Doctors were returning from their tri-weekly ski trip, and they were more than just nothappy; they were freaking pissed. The numbers had just come in for ‘04 (the one in the 2000s) and they were not looking good. Because of all the recent lawsuits, their salaries were on par to be the same as The Dentists’ in just two years’ time. Something had to be done, and quick.

Enter stage-left: the American Tort Reform Association of the Conglomerated Corporations of Tobacco, Alcohol, Firearms, Vaping, and Child Sacrifice.

{Billed as a grassroots movement, “tort reform” was actually the carefully orchestrated plan of the American Tort Reform Association—a group of profit-swilling, baby-killing misanthropes who receive 50% of their funding from Big Tobacco and the rest (presumably) from the Devil.}

So, The Tobacco Companies (through the American Tort Reform Association) called up The Doctors and said,

“Hey Doctors, do you like money? We like money. We have money. People, on the other hand, like you. If we (The Tobacco Companies) take our money; and put your (The Doctors’) public image on it, we can give it to the state legislature and get some laws passed that keep us both from getting sued. Then we will have even more money that we can use to laugh and chain-smoke Marlboros on our next ski trip, and then you (The Doctors) can go back to thinking, ‘Ehh, not really,’ when a dentist introduces himself as ‘Dr. So-and-so.’”

The Doctors liked the sound of this. After all, most people like the sound of more money and (at least at that time) more Marlboros. The Doctors, however, were not sure the plan would actually work.

“What about The Plaintiff’s Bar?” The Doctors said, “There’s no way they are just going to sit by and let us eliminate our own liability. That’s how they make their living. Those guys are very powerful and have an enormous amount of money from their recent lawsuit victories.”

“You let us worry about The Plaintiff’s Bar,” Big Tobacco said, “We know it’s going to be tough, but it will be worth it. We believe that with enough hard work and money, in as little as five, maybe ten years’ time, we should start to see—”

 “It passed.”

“What?” said Big Tobacco.

“The Bills that prevent us from getting sued. They’ve already passed.”

{You see, the Whales of The Plaintiff’s Bar had already skinned the sheep. They already had everything they could ever want. Why should they care?}

Well, they didn’t. And then they didn’t again. And then we got it:

The Mississippi Miracle.

Two rounds of bona fide, true-and-tried, the Lord-ain’t-died liability elimination. God must’ve been having a good day when He made Haley Barbour; there’s not another man this side of the Mississippi that could have gotten what he did done.

{Mississippi, a trailblazer in the field, was one of the first states in the whole country to put a cap on noneconomic damages.}

Have you ever noticed how when you see a doctor, they’re always smiling a certain smile? This is why. It’s a smile that can only come from thinking, “I could prescribe you enough fentanyl to kill a pack of Indian elephants and, legally, only be required to pay half of what I make in a year (which is of course way more than The Dentists).”

So. Where is Mississippi today as opposed to almost 20 years ago?

  • Well, the American Tort Reform Association is apparently still paying people to write articles about the continued and prolific benefits our State receives from the Bills they were kind enough to grace us with.
  • The Doctors pay one-third of what they did for medical insurance premiums in the year before tort reform passed. Their salary, ski trips, and the overall cost the public pays for healthcare, however, are all slightly above one-third of what they were at that time.
  • Mississippi is no longer on the ATRA’s “Top Judicial Hellholes” list.
  • Our percentage increase in GDP from 2000 to 2022 (clocking in at almost 19%) ranks 45th out of 50. Other states that have been unable to remove themselves from the list rank 3rd, 8th, 10th, and 26th in this same metric.
  • We’ve gone from being ranked 50th in income per capita in 2000, to 50th in income per capita (for the 22nd straight year) in 2022.
  • Mass Mutual, the insurance company quoted ad nauseam as saying, after the passage of the Bills, that Mississippi “is once again open for business” has reentered Mississippi and has increased its revenue from $12.8B in 2000 to $34.34B in 2022 (an impressive 168% increase). It is headquartered in Massachusetts and New York. (Yes, this is the same New York that we were ranked behind in “per capita jury verdicts over $1M” in the early 2000s. New York is still on the ATRA’s “judicial hellholes” list. It has remained on this list consistently since 2000.)
  • And, unsurprisingly, the ATRA is pushing for even less corporate accountability.

Mississippi. Mississippi. For one short moment, we were in the spotlight. We were the guys the outsiders were jealous of. The place people wanted to be. Where 60 Minutes was covering thousands pouring. Hoping to strike it rich. To have their own private jets and ski trips and Marlboros. “Mississippi.” You can hear them yearning. Crying. Wanting to be here. Here, in Mississippi.

That’s all gone now, but we can still look back, picture a candy-red Ferrari whizzing down State Street, and think:

“Mississippi: The Lawsuit Capital of the World.”

“Capital… of the World?” “Yes, of the World. The World. The whole damn thing.”

The views and opinions express in this blog post are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Mississippi College, Mississippi College School of Law, or the Law Review. The author is solely responsible for the content of this post. The information provided in this post is for general informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice.