TN Supreme Court - Tort Reform Act (Update)

October 23, 2015

In our most recent edition of In The Balance, we published a legislative update regarding Tennessee's Tort Reform Act (pg. 36 - "State's Tort Reform Act Being Challenged"). Continue reading for more recent updates:

The Tennessee Supreme Court has reversed a trial court’s ruling declaring unconstitutional a statute limiting non-economic damages in some tort cases. The Supreme Court’s ruling, issued on October 16, keeps in place the caps in the Tennessee Civil Justice Act of 2011, also known as Tennessee’s Tort Reform Act. In May, Judge Neil Thomas of Hamilton County made the ruling in Clark v. Cain, et. al after the plaintiffs sought more than $22.5 million in damages for pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life. The requested damages are in excess of the limits in the Act, which limits non-economic damages to $750,000 per plaintiff in most cases. Defenses attorneys in the case sought partial summary judgment due to the amount of the demand. Instead, Judge Thomas held that the statute was unconstitutional because it interfered with a jury’s right to determine damages. Both the defendants and the state of Tennessee sought review of Judge Thomas’ ruling. The Tennessee Supreme Court indicated that the trial court’s ruling was premature because the plaintiffs had not received an award in excess of the statute’s limits. The Supreme Court noted that under the statute, the limit is not for the jury to apply, but for a trial court to determine if it applies after a jury determines the award. In their response, the Plaintiffs requested that the Supreme Court decide the constitutionality of the statute. The Supreme Court declined to do this, noting that courts should decide a party's rights and not give “abstract opinions.” The case is remanded to the trial court in Hamilton County. The Tennessee Legislature enacted the limits in 2011, based on the argument that large jury verdicts hurt the state’s ability to attract and keep business.

For more details on this case, click here.

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