Challenges of the Non-Economic Damage Caps in Tennessee

In 2011, the Tennessee legislature passed the Tennessee Civil Justice Act, which limited the non-economic damages that plaintiffs could receive in personal injury cases in our state. Specifically, courts must reduce any award of damages regarding pain and suffering or other intangible losses to $750,000. The law was intended to protect businesses from having to face significant liability for wrongdoing and harm caused. The law has been criticized by many since the start for its pro-business focus instead of protecting injured citizens.

Now, courts throughout the state are challenging this law as unconstitutional. Non-economic damages are determined by a jury in a personal injury trial, and the jury is not informed of the statutory cap. If a jury awards a plaintiff $4 million for their pain and suffering or permanent disabilities, the court will then have to reduce that part of the award to meet the cap. Plaintiffs are asserting that this law violates their right to a trial by jury, as their damages are truly being decided by the state legislature that passed the law.

The following are the challenges of the non-economic damage cap thus far.

Lindenberg v. Jackson National Life Insurance Co.

This case was heard by the federal Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, and the court struck down the damage cap as unconstitutional. However, this decision is only binding on federal courts in the Sixth Circuit, and Tennessee state courts can still lawfully apply the cap to non-economic damages in cases heard in state court.

Carman v. Kelton

This case was brought in Williamson County state court by a woman who was hit by a car while she was running. She suffered permanent injuries, including the loss of vision in one eye. The jury awarded her the following:

This was a larger award than all the damages awarded in Williamson County injury trials since 2000 combined. A large percentage of the compensatory damages were non-economic, and the cap would have substantially lowered the amount the plaintiff would have received. The circuit judge decided to strike down the damage cap as unconstitutional and refused to reduce the award accordingly.

McClay v. Airport Management Services, Inc.

The Tennessee Supreme Court heard arguments in this case, which arises from a case involving a woman who suffered a crushed ankle in an airport shop. Her non-economic damages award was reduced in state court according to the cap. If the state Supreme Court rules that the cap is unconstitutional, the law will be struck down in the state for all future cases.

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Injury cases can involve complex legal issues, and our Nashville personal injury attorneys at Bednarz Law can help. Contact us online or call us at 615-256-0100 to discuss your injuries today.