1997 Regular Session
To: Judiciary A
By: Representative Blackmon
House Bill 896
AN ACT TO AMEND SECTION 11-1-65, MISSISSIPPI CODE OF 1972, TO PROVIDE THAT A DEFENDANT'S NET WORTH SHALL BE DETERMINED IN AN EVIDENTIARY HEARING ON THE JUDGE'S MOTION OR ON THE MOTION OF EITHER PARTY; TO REQUIRE THE COURT TO INFORM THE JURY DURING THE COMPENSATORY DAMAGES STAGE THAT THE PUNITIVE DAMAGE STAGE IS BIFURCATED; AND FOR RELATED PURPOSES.
BE IT ENACTED BY THE LEGISLATURE OF THE STATE OF MISSISSIPPI:
SECTION 1. Section 11-1-65, Mississippi Code of 1972, is amended as follows:
11-1-65. (1) In any action in which punitive damages are sought:
(a) Punitive damages may not be awarded if the claimant does not prove by clear and convincing evidence that the defendant against whom punitive damages are sought acted with actual malice, gross negligence which evidences a willful, wanton or reckless disregard for the safety of others, or committed actual fraud.
(b) In any action in which the claimant seeks an award of punitive damages, the trier of fact shall first determine whether compensatory damages are to be awarded and in what amount, before addressing any issues related to punitive damages. The court shall inform the jury during its charge to the jury during the compensatory stage of the trial that the punitive damage determination is bifurcated.
(c) If, but only if, an award of compensatory damages has been made against a party, the court shall promptly commence an evidentiary hearing before the same trier of fact to determine whether punitive damages may be considered.
(d) The court shall determine whether the issue of punitive damages may be submitted to the trier of fact; and, if so, the trier of fact shall determine whether to award punitive damages and in what amount.
(e) In all cases involving an award of punitive damages, the fact finder, in determining the amount of punitive damages, shall consider, to the extent relevant, the following: the defendant's financial condition and net worth which shall be decided by the judge at any stage in the proceedings on the judge's own motion or on the motion of either party after a decision has been made by the court to consider punitive damages and such financial condition and net worth shall be determined in an evidentiary hearing; the nature and reprehensibility of the defendant's wrongdoing, for example, the impact of the defendant's conduct on the plaintiff, or the relationship of the defendant to the plaintiff; the defendant's awareness of the amount of harm being caused and the defendant's motivation in causing such harm; the duration of the defendant's misconduct and whether the defendant attempted to conceal such misconduct; and any other circumstances shown by the evidence that bear on determining a proper amount of punitive damages. The trier of fact shall be instructed that the primary purpose of punitive damages is to punish the wrongdoer and deter similar misconduct in the future by the defendant and others while the purpose of compensatory damages is to make the plaintiff whole.
(f) (i) Before entering judgment for an award of punitive damages the trial court shall ascertain that the award is reasonable in its amount and rationally related to the purpose to punish what occurred giving rise to the award and to deter its repetition by the defendant and others.
(ii) In determining whether the award is excessive, the court shall take into consideration the following factors:
1. Whether there is a reasonable relationship between the punitive damage award and the harm likely to result from the defendant's conduct as well as the harm that actually occurred;
2. The degree of reprehensibility of the defendant's conduct, the duration of that conduct, the defendant's awareness, any concealment, and the existence and frequency of similar past conduct;
3. The financial condition and net worth of the defendant; and
4. In mitigation, the imposition of criminal sanctions on the defendant for its conduct and the existence of other civil awards against the defendant for the same conduct.
(g) The seller of a product other than the manufacturer shall not be liable for punitive damages unless the seller exercised substantial control over that aspect of the design, testing, manufacture, packaging or labeling of the product that caused the harm for which recovery of damages is sought; the seller altered or modified the product, and the alteration or modification was a substantial factor in causing the harm for which recovery of damages is sought; the seller had actual knowledge of the defective condition of the product at the time he supplied same; or the seller made an express factual representation about the aspect of the product which caused the harm for which recovery of damages is sought.
(2) The provisions of Section 11-1-65 shall not apply to:
(b) Libel and slander; or
(c) Causes of action for persons and property arising out of asbestos.
SECTION 2. This act shall take effect and be in force from and after July 1, 1997.