Tort Reform Debated In Biloxi

Pascagoula attorney Dickie Scruggs said at a Mississippi Press Association forum Saturday that tort reform is a "phony issue" that people in Mississippi don't care about. He went to Korea to try to lure Hyundai here, and said the issue never came up there, either.

"I was not asked about Mississippi's tort climate by anyone in that industry nor was anyone in our delegation," he said. "It didn't keep Nissan out, it didn't keep Nissan from doing phase two."

But, Hattiesburg Surgeon George McGee says Mississippi has a "significant crisis."

"If you're a pregnant woman in the Delta today, and you're expecting a baby, the fact that in a four county area, there are half the number of doctors delivering babies than there were a year ago is a crisis," he said.

But attorneys Dickie Scruggs and Melvin Cooper blame the insurance companies and their bad stock investments for doctors leaving.

"States have passed tort reform and the doctors are still experiencing high premiums," Cooper said.

Ron Aldridge is a businessman, and the state director of the National Federation of Independent Business. He says businesses are leaving Mississippi because of the legal climate.

"It's my members that are telling me for the last several years that one of their number one problems is the fear of lawsuits with over 50 percent of them having been sued or threatened to be sued," he said.

Those in favor of tort reform suggest following California's example of capping non-economic damages at $250,000. Those opposed say, that won't help.

The debate will continue in the state legislature. Governor Ronnie Musgrove has called a special session in August to discuss tort reform. Next week, a special legislative committee will continue with hearings with doctors and lawyers to try to come up with some solutions.