Articles
Fifth Circuit Upholds Mississippi's Million Cap On Noneconomic Damages

By: Lynn Patton Thompson

Yesterday the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion upholding as constitutional the Mississippi statute that caps the award of noneconomic damages at million. Miss. Code § 11-1-60(2)(b) provides:

[i]n any civil action filed on or after September 1, 2004, …in the event the trier of fact finds the defendant liable, they shall not award the plaintiff more than One Million Dollars (1,000,000.00) for noneconomic damages.

The term “noneconomic damages” is defined in §11-1-60(1)(a) to include “subjective, nonpecuniary damages arising from” death, pain, suffering, inconvenience, mental anguish, emotional distress, loss of enjoyment of life, loss of consortium, and other nonpecuniary damages. However, “noneconomic damages” do not include punitive or exemplary damages.

Lisa Learmonth was injured in an automobile accident and sued Sears, Roebuck and Co. for her injuries. A total award of million was made by a jury, and .2 million of that amount was deemed to be for her noneconomic damages. When the district court reduced the .2 portion of the award to million under §11-1-60(2)(b), Learmonth challenged the law as violating the Mississippi Constitution’s jury trial guarantee and separation of powers provisions.

The Fifth Circuit affirmed the lower court’s application of the million cap. Noting it was Learmonth’s duty to prove the statute unconstitutional, the Fifth Circuit determined that burden was not met on the issues she presented on appeal. The Fifth Circuit rejected Learmonth’s argument that the legislature could not enact a legal remedy which limited an award of damages made by a jury. The Fifth Circuit also rejected her argument that the statute impermissibly allowed the legislature to dictate to the judiciary procedures or guidelines for determining awards.