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Lawsuit filing jumps as deadline passes

[9/1/04]Lawsuit filing in Warren County Circuit Court was up by about one-third during August as attorneys rushed to register claims before damage-award caps took effect today.

By 3 p.m. records in the court clerk’s office showed 57 civil suits had been filed during the month, including at least 10 during the day, and more continued to be added.

Tuesday was the last day for suits to be filed before damage caps set during this year’s special session of the Mississippi Legislature took effect.

In a normal month the court receives “no more than about 40” lawsuits, Circuit Clerk Shelly Ashley-Palmertree said. “And that’s on the high end.”

Similar product liability and nursing home cases docketed during the six weeks leading up to the cutoff may have accounted for much of the difference.

At least nine suits by the same national law firm specializing in nursing home litigation were filed during August. From another firm since July 16 came at least 11 similar suits against makers of sandblasting material and related equipment.

State caps limit noneconomic damage awards in suits against health-care providers, including nursing homes, to $500,000. In suits against other types of defendants, new limits on noneconomic damages are $1 million.

Other provisions taking effect today address other aspects of civil claims, including standards for which defendants may be “joined” in a lawsuit and where suits may be filed against which defendants.

Additional provisions don’t take effect until Jan. 1, 2007.

A spokesman for Wilkes & McHugh, Steve Vancore, a specialist in nursing home litigation, noted that the caps could affect the income attorneys could expect from such suits.

Wilkes & McHugh has taken the lead in representing clients suing nursing homes from coast to coast and has an office in Hattiesburg.

Its suits, including those filed here this month, typically allege that nursing home managers systematically understaff them, affecting their ability to provide their residents with proper care.

It does not specify damage amounts sought in the lawsuits filed here. It does, however, boast of having won $4 million-plus jury verdicts in Mississippi, all since 2002. One, returned here in July and August, was a $1 million verdict against seven out-of-state companies with business interests in Shady Lawn Nursing Home of Vicksburg.

The sandblasting-related suits are filed by John A. Foxworth of Gulfport. They allege at least 11 of his clients were damaged by silica dust that remained suspended in the air after sandblasting.