Mississippi Litigation Review & Commentary

Mississippi Litigation Review & Commentary

Comments on the Latest Developments in Mississippi Civil Litigation

For Mississippi native son and attorney Philip Thomas, blogging about law, politics and topical issues in the state extends a conversation he’s been... More

PERS Update: Future of Pension Funds is Bleak

Posted in Mississippi Public Employer's Retirement System (PERS)

Mish’s Global Economic Trend Analysis had this post on Friday about a report that concludes that 85% of pension funds will fail over the next three decades. From the post:

Bridgewater Associates did an analysis of pension funds recently and concluded 85% of them will fail if returns average 4%. 

Bridgewater notes that public pensions have just $3 trillion in assets to invest to cover future retirement payments of $10 trillion over the next many decades. It would take an investment return of roughly 9% a year to meet those obligations. 

With the 30-Year long bond yielding a mere 3.5% and with stock valuation through the roof, I expect negative returns for 7-10 years. 

Stretched out over 30 years, 4% seems about right. 9% is out of the question….

Bridgewater came to these conclusions by stress testing the nation’s public pension plans, much the way banks need to be evaluated on what could happen given a wide range out outcomes. 

Many pension observers make the claim pensions will achieve 7% to 8% returns. But even if that assumption is correct, which is unlikely, public pensions are looking at a 20% shortfall, Bridgewater says. A 4% return is much more likely, the firm says.

My Take:

The time bomb continues to tick here in Mississippi. The chances of the Mississippi political leadership addressing this issue before the bomb explodes are close to zero. We can’t even pass a bill banning texting and driving.

Reforming PERS will be unpopular. So politicians will not touch the issue. That’s not really being a leader, but it is political reality.


Bobby DeLaughter Looked…….

Posted in Eaton v. Frisby

I’m not sure what I expected from Bobby DeLaughter’s interview on WAPT news last week. But it made a big impression.

My big takeaway from the interview was that Bobby DeLaughter looked happy. He smiled. He had the bemused twinkle in his eye of a man who has been out of the legal profession for a few years.

I’m not surprised that DeLaughter was pitching a book. The title: Inside the Labyrinth: A Bo Landry Exotic Thriller.  I don’t know if it’s any good yet. But the title smells like money.

DeLaughter is a good writer. So it wouldn’t surprise me if he does well in his writing career.

He sure looks better than the last time we saw him.

Miss. Jury Verdict Reporter: April Preview

Posted in Verdicts in Mississippi

The April 2014 edition of the Mississippi Jury Verdict Reporter is out, with details on the following verdicts:

  • $251,000 jury verdict- Coahoma County slip and fall case mentioned here (3/27/14);
  • $62,722 jury verdict- Hinds County nursing home trial before Judge Tommie Green (2/7/14);
  • $31,180 jury verdict- Harrison County car wreck trial (1/15/14);
  • $30,000 jury verdict- Hancock County uninsured motorist trial (2/6/14);
  • $18,500 combined jury verdict- Jackson federal court 18-wheeler trial mentioned here (2/7/14);
  • defense verdict- Harrison County car wreck case (1/23/14);
  • defense verdict- Warren County slip and fall case (11/13/13);
  • defense verdict- Jackson federal court police excessive force civil rights case (3/5/14); and
  • defense verdict- Hinds County car wreck case before Judge Winston Kidd (2/4/14).

My Take:

One thing I really like about the Miss. Jury Verdict Reporter is its impact on the narrative that defendants cannot win trials in Hinds County, particularly when the presiding judge is Judge Tommie Green or Judge Winston Kidd.

This has never really been true. But since defense verdicts or small plaintiff verdicts do not get the publicity, the misinformed have clung to the notion that plaintiffs have a huge advantage in Hinds County.

In truth, Hinds County may be the most level playing field in the state. You see it in focus groups and when viewing the results of all trials–not just the big plaintiff wins.

Defense Verdict in Copiah County Motorcycle Wreck Case

Posted in Verdicts in Mississippi

On March 28, 2014 a Copiah County jury returned a unanimous defense verdict in Hall v. J.B. Hunt Transportation.

The case involved a motorcycle wreck on I-55 at the Crystal Springs exit. Plaintiffs claimed that the death-mobile motorcycle was forced off the road by a merging 18-wheeler owned and operated by J.B. Hunt Transportation. 

The biker and his old lady passenger had $280,000 in medical bills between them with multiple fractures and traumatic brain injuries. Plaintiffs requested over $600,000 in past and future pain and suffering.

The trial lasted five days. Judge Lamar Pickard presided in the case.

Jeff Varas represented the passenger. Jim Shannon and Kathryn White represented the biker.

David Dunbar and Morton Smith of Dunbar Monroe in Ridgeland represented the defendant.

My Take:

One ‘plus’ of a motorcycle wreck case is that it’s hard for defendants to argue that the plaintiffs are faking.

Warning: Do not search Google images for “motorcycle wreck” unless you need to show your kids why they should never ride a motorcycle. Trust me.

$251,000 Coahoma County Slip and Fall Verdict

Posted in Verdicts in Mississippi

Last week a Coahoma County Circuit Court jury rendered a $251,000 verdict in a slip and fall case against the Isle of Capri Casino.

Harland Webster of Chapman Lewis Swan in Clarksdale and Oliver Clark represented the plaintiff.

Look for more information on the verdict in an upcoming issue of the Miss. Jury Verdict Reporter.

Mississippi Legislature Passes Bill Moving Hurricane Season to Winter

Posted in Politics in Mississippi

Jackson, MS (MLR)- With the Mississippi Legislative session slated to end soon, the House and the Senate passed a bill Tuesday moving hurricane season to the winter. Mississippi’s hurricane season will now run from November 1 through March 31.

Proponents of the bill claim that moving hurricane season out of the summer will benefit Mississippi’s tourism industry.

The sponsor of the bill was Rep. T. Frank Buck (R)- North Derby. “It just came to me one night sitting at the bar at Tico’s”, stated Derby. “I thought, hey, we’re moving squirrel season, why not move hurricane season too, so we aren’t competing with hurricane season in Louisiana, Alabama and Florida. It’s stupid having hurricane season in the summer when the beaches are packed.”  

State Senator Chris McDaniel stated that he supported the bill. “Our hurricane season is old and decrepit. We need a younger hurricane season without a bunch of earmarks,” McDaniel stated from the wheel of his campaign Winnebago parked outside the capital.

Other republicans applauded the bill as a step in making it easier for Mississippians to legally shoot each other. “I was really sad that after Katrina all the gun-play was in New Orleans,” said Sen. Eugene Tackleberry (R), East Kiln, “I just want to shoot some looter types.”

Democratic leaders also supported the bill. “We think this paves the way for some largess sponsored by the feds,” noted Steve Sands, one of two democrats currently serving in the Mississippi legislature.

Attorney General Jim Hood noted that the bill’s passage occurred the day after his office settled a massive lawsuit on behalf of the state against the makers of Yahoo chocolate drink for $132. Republicans complained that out of state lawyers will make a fortune in contingency fees on the settlement. “The lawyers are going to get, what? Like $30 or something?” asked Andy Wilson, (R), South Bayou View, “that’s ridiculous.”

“This is a great day for Mississippi,” proclaimed Governor Phil Bryant, “moving hurricane season to the winter will aid in my plan to bring a NASCAR super-speedway to Mississippi, so we can have an Indy 500 here.”

When reached for comment, former Governor Haley Barbour said: “Gawd, this just reminds me of why even most of the democrats loved me in Mississippi.”

$1,058,180 Verdict in Yazoo County Car Wreck Case

Posted in Verdicts in Mississippi

On Wednesday a Yazoo County jury rendered a plaintiff verdict on $1,058,180 in a trial involving a car wreck. The name of the case was Hubbard v. White. The jury rendered its verdict at the conclusion of a three day trial.

Plaintiffs asked for a verdict of $1.3 million in closing. The defendants suggested a $25,000 verdict to the jury. 

Dr. David Gandy was the defense expert.

Darryl Gibbs and Rogen Chhabra of Chhabra & Gibbs of Jackson represented the plaintiff.

Patrick Tatum and Will Morton from the Upshaw Williams law firm represented the defendant.

Judge Janie Lewis presided in the case.

Lighten Up Francis!

Posted in General

A little humor on a Friday.

The longer I practice law, the more I enjoy John Grisham’s novels based on Mississippi lawyers. His cracks on lawyers and law practice are both hilarious and true. 

Here’s a line from Grisham’s latest, Sycamore Row:

“Ian Dafoe was a preppy from a family of bankers down in Jackson, the capital, the largest city, home to at least half the assholes in Mississippi.”

By “assholes, ” I’m not sure if he means half the lawyers or, literally, half the assholes. I think it’s the former. But for a Coast-rat attorney living in Jackson, it’s an awesome line either way.

Then, in the very next paragraph:

The payments [on the leased Mercedes] caused a bind on their finances, but that didn’t matter. It was far more important for Mr. and Mrs. Dafoe to be seen around north Jackson in a proper vehicle. 

Just outstanding. Grisham works cracks like this into all his novels. Each one leaves me grinning for pages.

Sleazy Conduct by General Motors Shows the Dangers of Protecting Corporations from Lawsuits

Posted in Tort Reform

The legal world is blowing up this month with multiple lawsuits filed against General Motors Corp. over its faulty ignition switches that cause cars to lose power while driving down the road. The results are often deadly accidents, with the car’s airbags not deploying.

A New York Times article succinctly summarizes what G.M. did:

It was nearly five years ago that any doubts were laid to rest among engineers at General Motors about a dangerous and faulty ignition switch. At a meeting on May 15, 2009, they learned that data in the black boxes of Chevrolet Cobalts confirmed a potentially fatal defect existed in hundreds of thousands of cars. 

But in the months and years that followed, as a trove of internal documents and studies mounted, G.M. told the families of accident victims and other customers that it did not have enough evidence of any defect in their cars, interviews, letters and legal documents show. Last month, G.M. recalled 1.6 million Cobalts and other small cars, saying that if the switch was bumped or weighed down it could shut off the engine’s power and disable air bags.

My Take:

The obvious question is why would a corporation believe that  it can threaten people with financial ruin if they file a lawsuit over a defect that the company knows exists? The answer is because the company thinks it can.

Why would General Motors determine that misleading the public was a winning strategy? Several possible reasons jump out.

With its 2009 bankruptcy filing, the company believes it is protected from lawsuits over injuries that occurred before the bankruptcy filing. Also, with tort reform damages caps and “tort reformed” juries in most states, the risk of litigation is much less today than it was 10-15 years ago.

Products liability litigation is a dying practice area due to the high costs of litigation and fact that defendants’ risk is capped in most jurisdictions. If a company can make you spend $500,000 to litigate against it, but you can only recover $1 million if you win the case, the economics just don’t work from the plaintiff’s side.

This is the world we live in. What G.M. did may be reprehensible. But we shouldn’t be surprised.