The 10th anniversary of Mississippi's landmark tort reform legislation nears and pro tort reform groups are celebrating the milestone with a conference in Jackson next week.

Former Gov. Haley Barbour will be among the dignitaries speaking at the conference on May 14.

The event will discuss the history leading up to the 2004 legislation, as well as the future of tort reform in the state.

Ten years ago, in a heated political fight, the state legislature became one of the first in the nation to place caps on non-economic (pain and suffering) and punitive damages. There is a $500,000 cap on non-economic damages on medical liability cases. Other civil cases have a $1 million cap.

Rep. C. Scott Bounds, Republican-Philadelphia, said the legislature passed the tort reform law during his first year in office.

"I supported it," he said. " I think it has made a difference when you look at the figures I have seen in the course of 10 years in retention of health care professionals, doctors, surgeons, etc. I think it has made a difference there. Tort reform didn't diminish anybody's ability to sue or go to court. It leveled the litigation field between plaintiffs and defendants."

Bounds said the legislature had looked at tort reform earlier in 2002 and passed some reforms along those areas.

"We came back in 2004 and did some things. We put a cap on non-economic damages and did some things with joint and several liability clauses on the tort statutes."

Canton attorney Bob Montgomery was in the thick of the battle as he represented a medical insurance company that insured 80 percent of the doctors in the state.

He called the passage of the 2004 tort reform "a very significant event."

Montgomery said the battle began in 2002 during a special session that lasted a couple of months aimed at providing relief for physicians, healthcare providers, nursing homes and nurses.

That special session put the wheels in motion that led to the landmark reform, which Montgomery had a hand in drafting.

"2002-2004 has substantially stabilized the state," he explained. "Not only in passage of the legislation - (judges) have been very moderate and cautious going forward."

He said the atmosphere is not necessarily friendly, but it is stable.

"Business people, insurance companies - everybody - they just want to have something that's predictable," Montgomery said. "The highs and lows we had prior to that time were totally unsettling.

"Go back to the medical profession," he continued. "As far as (malpractice) policies are concerned, they are back at the 1996-1997 levels, so that's proof in the pudding so to speak."

The Tort Reform: After Ten Years Conference will begin at 2 p.m. on May 14 at the Jackson Convention Center. A reception will follow at 5 p.m. at the Jackson Convention Center.

There is no cost to attend, but registration is required. To register, visit www.msmec.com.