What is STOP Lawsuit Abuse in Mississippi?
STOP is a grassroots organization committed to achieving civil justice reform in Mississippi through the initiative, legislative and election processes. We are also focusing on educating Mississippians about the importance of civil justice reform.
When was STOP founded, and by whom?
STOP was founded in 1997 by a group of concerned Mississippians due to the high number of lawsuits and excessive judgements that have been brought or decided against Mississippi businesses during the last several
years. Mississippi, like Alabama, is becoming a haven for plaintiff's lawyers and a land of big jury awards.
Who funds STOP?
We are a non-profit organization that operates on contributions. These contributions are received from a base of thousands of Mississippians, Mississippi businesses, national corporations who do business in Mississippi and even concerned citizens in other states who want to stop lawsuit abuse.
Where does my contribution go?
The STOP office operates on a small budget with a staff of only two people, so that your money can be spent to accomplish our common goal of stopping lawsuit abuse. We emphasize mail as an efficient means of educating Mississippians about STOP and have sent out direct mail pieces to thousands of Mississippians. STOP also sponsored an aggressive media campaign during the 1999 legislative session, asking Mississippians to call their legislators and encourage them to support STOP's legislative agenda.
STOP has been all-inclusive in its approach to stopping lawsuit abuse, working with a three-prong approach through the initiative, legislative and election processes.
We have filed four initiatives with the Secretary of State's office to: limit punitive damages, limit attorney fees, make losers pay, and abolish joint and several liability. However, because of the trial lawyers' manipulation of the legal system, STOP has been forced to withdraw its initiatives. For example, STOP's punitive damage ballot title before the trial lawyers manipulated it read, "Should the Mississippi Constitution limit punitive damages awards to $250,000 or five times the economic damages, whichever is greater?" After the personal injury lawyers finished manipulating it, the title read, "Should the Mississippi Constitution limit and/or eliminate the penalty for intentionally defrauding or willfully endangering the people of Mississippi?"creating a false impression that would surely fail at the ballot box. Incedentally, once we do get the proper ballot title we then must secure approximately 100,000 signatures to put on the ballot for the people of Mississippi to vote on. Then, at this point, much hard work lies ahead.
STOP also presented a comprehensive civil justice reform package to the 1999 Legislature that achieved its first ever Committee hearing.
Additionally, we are in the process of recruiting candidates who support civil justice reform, who we will support in the 1999 elections.
Why has STOP filed so many different initiatives?
There is a limit on the number of issues that each initiative can address, requiring STOP to file separate initiatives for different issues.
How many initiatives have been filed in Mississippi since the law's inception?
A total of twenty initiatives have been filed in Mississippi with the Secretary of State's office.
How many initiatives have made it to the voters? Why so few?
Only one out of the twenty initiatives made it to the ballot for voting, and that was for term limits in 1995. The process is so cumbersome due to the roles of the Attorney General, the legislature and the Hinds County circuit court.
Why does STOP want to limit punitive damages?
The threat of large punitive damages often causes businesses to settle out of court meritless claims, shelling out thousands of dollars in a case where they often did nothing wrong.
Also, large punitive damage settlements are not as infrequent as the trial lawyers would like for us to believe. In the last few years, there have been several examples of cases with large punitive damage awards right here in Mississippi. Two years ago, a Jones County Court jury awarded $38 million in punitive damage against Trustmark Bank, when the plaintiff, who did not pay his bill, claimed that he never received a cut-off notice even though the bank sent eight first-class notices to his permanent address. A Jones County
jury also levied $36 million against GMAC in punitive damages over a $637 dispute with a man who wanted an insurance refund.
How does STOP's mission affect the wallets of Mississippi families?
Mississippians pay an estimated 2.5 to 5% of every dollar spent to support outrageous lawsuits. The American Tort Reform Association estimates that a $1,200 annual "tort tax" is paid by Americans to cover the threat of lawsuits. This is an outstanding example of why STOP wants to reverse a trend that takes money directly away from your family budget.
Doesn't my insurance cover frivolous lawsuits?
With excessive punitive damages tacked on, lawsuits can be for several million dollars; - which is probably more than your insurance covers - leaving businesses and individuals very vulnerable.
What are other states doing to protect their citizens from frivolous lawsuits?
Many states have passed legislation and/or initiatives that address the same issues that we are promoting. For example, ten states provide a sliding scale for attorney fees, similar to the scale that STOP is proposing. Many other states provide regulation of punitive damages that range from caps (like Mississippi is working towards) to the complete elimination of punitive damages. Almost 40 states have coalitions similar to STOP
Lawsuit Abuse in Mississippi, Inc., and many states have more than one coalitionall of which are working toward civil justice reform in their respective states.