2002 Regular Session

To: Judiciary

By: Senator(s) White (29th)

Senate Bill 2801



     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.

          (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; 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)  An award for punitive damages is payable to the state and not to the individual plaintiff or plaintiffs who bring the suit.  The damage award will be evenly divided between the Crime Victims' Compensation Fund established in Section 99-41-29, and the Capital Defense Counsel Special Fund established in Sections 99-18-17 and 99-18-19.  The Legislature will determine an amount that will be considered full funding for these funds.  Once the amount deposited into a fund reaches the pre-determined cap for that respective fiscal year, any punitive damage awards will be deposited into the state's Rainy Day Fund.  Monies deposited into any of these funds are subject to the restrictions on usage contained in applicable law.

          (h)  In an action in which punitive damages are awarded, attorney's fees may be collected from the punitive damage award.  The prevailing attorney may petition the trial court to determine a reasonable amount of attorney's fees and to award that amount to the attorney or attorneys.

     (2)  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.

     (3)  The provisions of Section 11-1-65 shall not apply to:

          (a)  Contracts;

          (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, 2002.