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Tennessee Supreme Court Rejects Lower Court’s Ruling on Damage Caps in Personal Injury Claims

After a circuit court judge ruled that the noneconomic damage caps were unconstitutional in the state of Tennessee, the state’s Supreme Court rejected the ruling. Damage caps limit the amount of recovery for injured or deceased persons in personal injury suits and In Tennessee the damage cap for non-economic damages like pain and suffering is set at $750,000. The Supreme Court argued that because the trial court had not yet actually awarded the plaintiff an amount over the $750,000, the plaintiff did not have relevance in the case. While the constitutionality of the damage caps can still be argued in this case, it must wait on a jury decision to award damages in excess of the cap.

 

About the Case

 

The case in question, Clark vs. Cain, et. al., revolves around an automobile accident that occurred in 2012. The plaintiffs, Donald and Beverly Clark, sued several divisions of AT&T and one of its employees. Before the jury reached its verdict, AT&T’s lawyers attempted to reach a summary judgement and cap the damages at $750,000. This cap was previously established by the Tennessee Civil Justice Act of 2011. The couple was seeking damages of $22.5 million for pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life. This discrepancy prompted the circuit court judge to rule on the constitutionality of such damage caps.

 

The presiding judge, Judge W. Neil Thomas, issued an opinion, stating that the jury should be the party that decides damages in cases, not the Tennessee state legislature. He went on to argue that such damage caps infringe on a person’s constitutionally protected right to have a trial by jury. Thomas stated that the law imposing the damage cap did not contain any justification for the amount and gave no indication that it was an appropriate figure for such cases.

 

Judge Thomas was not acting alone in striking down noneconomic damage caps. In recent years courts in Florida, Missouri and Illinois have struck down similar damage caps on the same grounds. The initial intent of the law establishing the damage caps was to prevent excessive jury awards and reduce the harm of tort cases on the state’s business and economic development.

 

The matter then moved up to the Court of Appeals which declined to consider the matter as the plaintiff was not yet awarded an amount that exceeded the damage cap and may never once the case is decided by the jury. The issue then went to the state’s supreme court who agreed with the Appeal’s Court and found that the trial court judge had acted prematurely when ruling on the constitutionality of the damage caps.

 

Despite the Supreme Court’s ruling, the issue on damage caps in personal injury claims is still open for debate. Whether or not it will remain an issue in this specific case depends on the amount of damages agreed upon by the jury.

 

Contact a Nashville Personal Injury Attorney Today

 

If you find yourself the victim of negligence and received an injury, consider contacting a Nashville personal injury attorney. A skilled attorney can help you receive a just settlement and fight for the financial damages you deserve.

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