In a closely watched appeal, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld the constitutionality of Mississippi’s noneconomic damages caps. The case was Learmonth v. Sears, Roebuck and Co., 2013 U.S. App. LEXIS 4035 (5th Cir. Miss. Feb. 27, 2013). The Fifth Circuit’s ruling came on the heals of the Court’s certification of the question of the statute’s constitutionality to the Mississippi Supreme Court and the Mississippi Supreme Court’s denial of the certified question. [Sears, Roebuck & Co. v. Learmonth (Learmonth II), 95 So. 3d 633, 639 (Miss. 2012) (en banc).]
In Learmonth, a federal jury found Sears, Roebuck and Company liable for serious injuries resulting from an accident between Lisa Learmonth and a Sears truck. The jury awarded Learmonth $4 million dollars in compensatory damages. The damages award included approximately $2.2 million dollars in noneconomic damages. The District Court later reduced the noneconomic damages to $1 million dollars in accordance with the damages cap contained in §11-1-60(2) (b) Miss. Code Ann. (1972, as amended).
Both parties appealed on a number of grounds. However, the Court specifically addressed the constitutionality of §11-1-60(2)(b) and concluded that Learmonth failed to show that the section violated the Mississippi Constitution. According to the Learmonth, the statute violated the Mississippi Constitution’s jury guarantee and separation of powers provisions. The Court rejected both grounds and concluded that the statute complies with Mississippi’s constitutional framework.
The Learmonth decision is another defeat for opponents of Mississippi’s noneconomic damages. However, the question is still unresolved by the Mississippi Supreme Court on this important issue.