On Thursday the Mississippi Supreme Court reversed and rendered a $787,500 silica case judgement in Mine Safety Appliance Co. v. Holmes. It was a 6-3 decision with Chief Justice Waller writing the majority opinion. Here is Jane Tucker’s post that contains a summary of the decision.
This was a products case with the product at issue being a respirator. The majority determined that the plaintiff’s misuse of the respirator by never changing the filter materially changed the product’s condition after it left the defendant’s control.
The dissent cited expert testimony that it would have been impossible for the filter to be used for six years without changing the filter.
I don’t really have a take on whether the Court got it right. The issue seems like there is a fact question in there somewhere. But trying a case where the conduct at issue happened 50 years ago is going to invite a lot of appellate scrutiny, particularly in Jefferson County.
A lot of fortunes were made litigating cases in Jefferson County in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s. And we owe a lot of our current litigation climate to it. Fishing with dynamite was the most apt description I heard of filing cases in Jefferson County in that era.
Personally, I wouldn’t want to have to file a case now in Jefferson County. If you can get your case to the jury, which is not a given, defendants can win at trial as shown here and here. This leaves defendants free-rolling in trials believing that they will be favored on the appeal. That’s a bad recipe for plaintiffs.
A lot of people will criticize this decision as another blow for litigation practices in Mississippi. And I feel certain that plaintiff lawyers will be hearing about it from defense lawyers in mediations in the coming months.
It’s easy to say that most plaintiff verdicts decided on appeal are reversed. That’s just math. Where the stats are more nebulous is on the number and value of cases that settle while on appeal.
Do some of the best plaintiff cases settle before the Court can affirm (or reverse) the verdicts?