Thursday, January 24, 2013

5th Circuit reviews Mississippi Non-economic Damages Cap

Learmouth v. Sears, 631 F.3d 724 (2011) is a 2005 damages cap case has been pulled back up to 5th Circuit arguments. The 5th Circuit seeks further briefing on the issue of the constitutionality of Mississippi's $1 million cap on non-economic damages. The case has been around long enough to warrant a new brief based on any lower court decisions on the matter since the initial briefings.

In 2008 a federal jury found for the Plaintiff Lisa Learmouth for $4 million dollars, but the jury did not note which of these amounts were economic damages and which were noneconomic damages.

Non-economic damages refer to things like pain and suffering, which cannot be put into definite amounts. Currently the cap applies, but the court has heard arguments that damages caps such as this are unconstitutional because American citizens are guaranteed a right to trial by jury where a jury of peers will determine the amount of damages due if an individual or company is found to be at fault for an injury. The argument continues that a limit on damages takes away the power of the jury to truly decide the amount of restitution, the legislature in a way saying that the jury can make a decision just not that decision.

For more on this topic:

A jury found Sears, Roebuck and Company liable for causing Lisa Learmonth's injuries in an automobile accident and awarded her $4 million in compensatory damages. The district court denied Sears' motion for a new trial, but remitted the non-economic damages portion of the award to $1 million pursuant to Mississippi's statutory cap on non-economic damages. Sears appeals the district court's denial of its motion for new trial; Learmonth cross-appeals the constitutionality of the Mississippi statutory cap. We affirm the district court's judgment insofar as it denied a new trial and certify the state constitutional question to the Supreme Court of Mississippi.


Plaintiff Lisa Learmonth was seriously injured in a car accident at the intersection of Mississippi State Highways 15 and 485. The collision involved Learmonth's car, which she was driving, and a Sears, Roebuck and Company ("Sears") van driven by James McClelland, a Sears employee. Sears contested both liability and damages at trial.
The primary factual dispute as to liability was which driver was traveling on Highway 15, which runs north and south, and which driver was traveling on Highway 485, which runs east and west at that juncture. The question was a critical one, 729*729 as there is a stop sign on Highway 485— but no stop sign on Highway 15—at the intersection where the accident took place. Therefore, whoever was driving on Highway 15 had the right-of-way. Both drivers claimed that the other had been traveling east on Highway 485 and had run the stop sign at the intersection, causing the collision.
Eight fact witnesses testified in connection with the liability issue, including Learmonth and McClelland. Learmonth, who suffered head trauma from the collision, testified that she did not remember the accident itself, but that she had been heading north on Highway 15 to pick up her mother that day and had called her mother from a town south of the intersection on Highway 15. Phone records verified that Learmonth called her mother about fifteen minutes before the accident occurred. McClelland testified that he completed a service call at the home of Bud Dees, a quarter-mile north of the intersection on Highway 15, and was driving south on Highway 15 when Learmonth's car entered his path. At trial, he testified that he could not remember what time he left Dees' home, but in earlier depositions he testified that he left around 11:30 a.m. The accident occurred around 1:30 p.m. Sears submitted an affidavit stating that it was unable to locate any information or records, electronic or otherwise, regarding the service calls, deliveries, or repairs made by McClelland on the day of the accident, and it was thus unable to confirm McClelland's whereabouts on the day of the accident.

No comments:

Post a Comment