New Tennessee Law Limits Recovery of Damages for Personal Injuries

Tennessee residents who have been injured by the actions of another person or business may be affected by new legal provisions that limit recovery of damages for personal injury claims.

In June of last year, Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam signed into law the Tennessee Civil Justice Act , also known as the “tort reform law.” The law went into effect in October of 2011 and applies to all civil liability actions that occur on or after October 1 of that year.

The Tennessee Civil Justice Act:

The new law essentially places limits on the amount of non-economic damages a person may recover for injuries in a law suit stemming from the actions of another person or business. There are several key components that could have the effect of limiting a damages award when bringing certain personal injury claims within the state of Tennessee. Among other things, the new law:

• Identifies the venue where a lawsuit may be brought against a business;
• Sets forth a $750,000 cap on most non-economic damages, with the exception of intentional misconduct, the destruction of records, or behavior that is determined to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol;
• Increases the cap to $1 million on non-economic damages for catastrophic losses that result in paraplegia, quadriplegia, amputation, substantial burns or the wrongful death of a parent who has minor children;
• Inserts a cap on punitive damages of twice the compensatory damages or $500,000, whichever is greater, with the exception of intentional misconduct, the destruction of records, or behavior that is determined to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 29-39-101 to 104.

In most instances, the law limits compensation for non-economic damages to $750,000 for each injured plaintiff unless the injury is “catastrophic”, in which case non-economic damages are limited to $1,000,000. Although the new law places caps on non-economic injuries, claimants may still bring a personal injury action seeking unlimited damages for any quantifiable or measurable injury. For example, despite the new law, injured claimants will still be eligible to recover costs for economic damages such as related medical bills, lost wages, job loss, property damage, and rehabilitation expenses.

In May of this year, the Attorney General, Robert E. Cooper, Jr., issued an opinion addressing questions about the applicability of the law to claims for health care liability, including medical malpractice cases. Essentially, the Attorney General’s office explained that the new law applies to all civil actions with the exception of those claims brought against the State of Tennessee, local government entities and their employees.

This law is expected to have a significant impact on serious personal injury matters within the State of Tennessee. This is particularly true for those injured persons who do not have substantial economic damages such as lost wages or medical bills, but who have otherwise been seriously injured. In many cases, the law will fall most harshly on women, children, and the elderly.

If you have been involved in some kind of accident and suffered injuries, the amount of damages you may be entitled to recover may be affected by this new law. And, though proponents of the law and “tort reform” in general claim that it will help encourage business in Tennessee, there is no evidence that has occurred in other states where similar laws have been passed.

For questions about this law and how it could impact your right to damages, please contact The Law Office of David S. Hagy, PLC, at (615) 975-7882.