In its general tort reform proposal,* the Mississippi Senate is seeking to eliminate security requirements for large retail firms, apartment complexes, casinos and banks among other businesses.

"This proposal could endanger the lives of all persons who shop at any retail establishments, particularly women and children," said David Baria, president of the Mississippi Trial Lawyers Association. "This typifies the motives of the tort reformers - profits over people."

"We may be experiencing the last safe Christmas shopping season in Mississippi if the Senate succeeds in passing this bill," Baria said.

The questioned section was proposed when the Senate implemented a "strike-all" of House Bill No. 19 and substituted its own language on October 31. It says:

"Section 6. No owner, lessee or person in control of any property or premises shall be held liable for failing to prevent or failing to deter any act or omission committed by another person upon such property or premises that is a reckless, wanton, intentionally wrongful, illegal or criminal act."

"The Senate wants to totally eliminate any responsibility for businesses to insure their patrons' safety," Baria said. "I doubt that most Mississippi business owners, if they knew of this proposal, would feel good about being a part of it."

"If this measure becomes law, we can expect increases in the numbers of rapes, muggings, abductions and homicides at shopping centers, apartment complexes, ATM sites, and other places where we go about our every day lives," Baria said.

A number of law enforcement officials and ex-officials have voiced their concern over the proposal.

In an affidavit, Jackson Police Commander Lee Vance said, "Any law restricting business liability from criminal acts on their property would greatly put our citizens, especially women and children, at greater risk to be seriously injured, assaulted or killed."

Dr. Michael Clay Smith, USM professor and director of graduate studies in the Department of Criminal Justice and consulting criminologist, said in a prepared statement, "Any law that eliminates or limits civil tort liability of business owners would without a doubt result in a reduction of such reasonable security and safety measures, and lead to increases in the victimization of our citizenry, always with tragic and sometimes deadly results."

"An example of what happens when security is lax or non-existent is what happened in Jackson a few years ago.** A major discount store changed management and on-site security was immediately eliminated to cut expenses. Within weeks, a patron and her minor daughter were abducted and brutally raped," Baria said.

"This is just another example of how the law can be changed in the name of 'Reform' and the actual effect is harmful to real people," Baria said. ##

Press Notes: * Access this bill online at: ** Whitehead v Food Max, 163 F. 3d, 265, 271 (5th Cir. 1998) Affidavits from Vance and Smith accompany this release.

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