The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals held late last month that Mississippi’s $1 million limit on noneconomic damages in personal injury and product liability cases is constitutional.
The case, Learmonth v. Sears, Roebuck & Co., revolved around an incident where a Mississippi woman was seriously injured after being hit by a Sears delivery truck. The jury in that case sided with Learmonth, awarding her $4 million in damages. Unfortunately, the jury never broke down the award, failing to itemize how much of the total was for economic versus noneconomic damages. When the case made its way to a U.S. district court, the judge interpreted the award as having awarded $2.2 million for noneconomic damages. Given the state’s cap on such awards, Learmonth had her $2.2 million reduced down to $1 million.
Understandably unhappy with the turn of events, especially given the jury’s clear belief that Sears was in the wrong and owed Learmonth considerable money to compensate her for the harm she suffered, Learmonth appealed. Her attorneys argued that the cap violated the state’s constitutional guarantee to a jury trial as well as presenting a problem with the issue of separation of powers. Learmonth argued that the cap on damages denied the jury its rightful power to decide a case, including the damages associated with that case. Furthermore, because the legislature passed the law which serves to circumvent the judicial process, Learmonth claimed the legislation violated the constitutionally required separation of powers.