U.S. Chamber Criticizes Mississippi As "Lawsuit Mecca"

During a press conference in Washington D.C., the United States Chamber of Commerce called Mississippi's legal system "deeply flawed" because juries have awarded plaintiff's huge verdicts.

"Mississippi is not only last, it's dead last," U.S. Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Thomas Donahue said. "Mississippi is the choice for class action trial lawyers in this country."

Several local business leaders, including Jackson County Chamber of Commerce Director Terry Carter, are not happy with the U.S. Chamber's actions.

"This is a Mississippi problem and should be dealt with by Mississippians, more specifically the Mississippi legislature," Carter said.

"Mississippi once again is being singled out," Harrison County Development Commission Director Michael Olivier said. "I guess we're an easy target."

They don't like Mississippi being singled out, but both agree that outrageous jury verdicts are hurting economic development.

"Two months ago in Europe, I was assigned to England for four days," Olivier explained. "I called on eight companies. Three of the companies brought up the issue of large jury awards as a very negative issue. That's going to be very difficult for us to overcome."

Biloxi attorney Paul Minor doesn't believe it.

"Did that stop Nissan from coming here?," he asked. "Of course not. Do you think a Japanese auto manufacturer would locate an almost three million dollar plant in a state that it thought would be hostile to it? The answer is clearly no."

The Chamber plans to spend $100,000 on newspaper ads in Mississippi talking about the need for tort reform. Minor says Chamber leaders are picking on Mississippi because it's a small state where that amount of money could be influential.

"This is nothing more than big insurance companies, big pharmaceutical companies, big manufacturers of defective products who have injured people who are trying to say 'protect our liability so if and when we get sued in Mississippi, hopefully, we can manipulate juries to believe that they shouldn't award fair and adequate compensation,' " he said.

The Chamber is asking Mississippians to push state legislators to pass bills that would limit large jury verdicts. Gov. Ronnie Musgrove says he would consider a special session, but some legislators say it's unlikely anything would get passed because the key committee leaders are trial lawyers who oppose any tort reform.

Sen. Trent Lott released a statement Wednesday saying he believes tort reform is needed to retain existing jobs and attract new ones, but he said, "I do not believe singling-out Mississippi over other states which have similar circumstances contributes to this sincere debate among concerned Mississippians, and I do not appreciate the U.S. Chamber's action today."

Mississippi Development Authority Director Robert Rohrlack agreed.

"The U.S. Chamber should concentrate on national solutions to improve our national economy and provide help in job creation," Rohrlack said.