It’s time for the next installment of Holcomb Dunbar law series “Insurance Law from A to Z.” This was put together by our litigation group who practice in the insurance law arena. Of course, if you have questions about these or any other topics please do not hesitate to contact us.
This week’s installment – Damage Caps
Mississippi has a cap on non-economic damages (i.e. pain and suffering, etc.) of $1,000,000 for all actions other than medical malpractice. Miss. Code Ann. § 11-1-60.
Medical malpractice claims have a non-economic damage cap of $500,000. Miss. Code Ann. § 11-1-60.
There are no limits to economic damages (past, present or future medicals, lost wages, etc).
There are punitive damage caps based on the defendant’s net worth, as follows:
Net Worth Cap
Over $1 Billion $20,000,000
$750 M – $1 Billion $15,000,000
$500 M – $750 M $5,000,000
$100 M – $500 M $3,750,000
$50 M – $100 M $2,500,000
$50 M or Less 2% of Net Worth
Miss. Code Ann. § 11-1-65.
Collateral Source Rule
The defendant may not show that a portion of the medical bills claimant seeks to recover from the defendant have been paid others. Eaton v. Gilliland, 537 So. 2d 405 (Miss. 1989).
However, if a claimant has assigned the right of recovery to certain payments (i.e. medical bills, insurance payments, etc.) he may not attempt to collect them. They are no longer his claim and the carrier “own[s] absolutely the right to recover for damages.” In other words, if a claimant has legally transferred his right to collect portions of his damages, then he can no longer claim them as damages. McDonald v. Southeastern Fidelity insurance Co., 606 So. 2d 1061 (Miss. 1992).
The plaintiff must show by clear and convincing evidence that the defendant acted with actual malice; acted with gross negligence that shows willful, wanton, or reckless disregard for the safety of others; or committed actual fraud in order to recover punitive damages. Miss. Code Ann. § 11-1-65.
The obligation to pay punitive damages may be excluded by appropriate language in the policy. Shelter Mut. Ins. Co. v. Dale, 914 So. 2d 698 (Miss. 2005). If the policy does not exclude punitive damages, Mississippi courts have held that it is not against public policy to insure against such damages, and a policy will be held to cover them.
The United States Supreme Court has placed some additional restrictions on the size of punitive damage awards as they relate to actual damages. The Court has held that rarely will anything more than a 1:1 ratio be reasonable and almost certainly nothing more than 9 times the actual damages will be held constitutional. There are exceptions to exceptionally egregious conduct or cases with extremely minimal actual damages. State Farm Mut. Auto . Ins. Co. v. Campbell, 538 U.S. 1513, 1524 (2003).
The emotional distress must always be a reasonably foreseeable result of the defendant’s conduct. Adams v. U.S. Homecrafters, Inc., 744 So. 2d 736 (Miss. 1999).
Mississippi law is unclear as to whether a physical manifestation of harm is required for negligent infliction of emotional distress. The court has applied a permissive view which permits recovery solely based on evidence of mental injury and a restrictive view requiring some sort of physical manifestation or demonstrable harm. See Edmonds v. Beneficial Mississippi, Inc., 212 Fed.Appx. 334, 337-38 (5th Cir. 2007) for a discussion of Mississippi law on this topic.
What is clear is that a claimant must offer “substantial proof” of emotional harm, Ill. Cent. R.R. Co. v. Hawkins, 830 So. 2d 1162, 1174 (Miss. 2002), and the emotional injuries must be reasonably foreseeable from the defendant’s actions. Adams, 744 So. 2d at 742-43.
The Mississippi Supreme Court has held that vague complaints of sleeplessness, nightmares, worry and multiple visits to a doctor were insufficient to prove emotional harm. Ill. Cent. R.R. Co., 830 So. 2d at 1174.
The information contained in this post is for general guidance on matters of interest only. The application and impact of laws can vary widely based on the specific facts involved. Given the changing nature of laws, rules and regulations, there may be omissions or inaccuracies in information contained in this report. Accordingly, the information in this report is provided with the understanding that the authors are not herein engaged in rendering legal, tax, or other professional advice and services. As such, it should not be used as a substitute for consultation with legal or other competent advisers. Before making any decision or taking any action, you should consult with your counsel or the attorneys at Holcomb Dunbar.