In a written decision filed on March 9, 2015 by a Tennessee Circuit Court judge (trial court judge) involving claims for personal injury damages arising out of a traffic collision, the court held that the Tennessee Civil Justice Act of 2011 (“Tort Reform Act”), which applies to all Tennessee personal injury claims accruing after October 1, 2011, was unconstitutional.
The Circuit Court judge issued a written Memorandum and Order in which he thoroughly set forth his determination that the Tennessee Tort Reform Act violated Tennessee’s Constitution because the right to a jury trial on liability and damages is a fundamental right protected by Tennessee’s Constitution; that applying strict scrutiny analysis to the Tort Reform Act’s limits on damages in personal injury cases in light of the fundamental right to a jury trial that includes a determination of damages as well as liability fails to show a compelling state interest (merely an economic one) that would override the constitutionally protected right to a jury trial on damages as well as liability; and, that the Tort Reform Act also violates the constitutional guarantee of due process and equal protection because it is irrational to distinguish between plaintiffs who have suffered more severe injury than plaintiffs who have suffered less.
Tennessee’s Tort Reform Act
The Tennessee Civil Justice Act of 2011 (T.C.A. Section 29-39-101, et seq.) established a limit in the amount of $750,000 for noneconomic damages (such as pain and suffering) in personal injury cases (which includes Tennessee medical malpractice claims). The limit is increased to $1,000,000 for injury or loss that is “catastrophic in nature.”
The Circuit Court judge stated in his written decision that he had reviewed the hearings of the Tennessee Legislature regarding the Tort Reform Act and that he “found no viable support for the conclusion that caps on non-economic damages are needed in Tennessee for economic development … more telling is the fact that no justification was given for the number itself – $750,000. In fact, the number was never even mentioned as an appropriate number.”
The Circuit Court judge stated that Tennessee’s Tort Reform Act “should not be denominated “tort reform,” because it has nothing to do with reforming tort law in a pure sense. No law either in Tennessee or elsewhere has been introduced to change the system of tort law – the duty of one person to act with reasonable care with respect to another person. Rather, the effort both in Tennessee and elsewhere is to limit the recovery by juries in what have been traditionally known as tort, or personal injury cases. If the legislation were to be named properly, then, it would be “jury reform.” The sole thrust of the legislation is not to change the law of responsibility between individuals but to limit, and, therefore, express distrust of, juries and their verdicts.”
Source: Clark, et al. vs. AT & T Corp., et al., Memorandum and Order, Docket No. 12C1147, Circuit Court of Hamilton County, Tennessee.
If you suffered serious injuries as a result of possible medical negligence in Tennessee or in another U.S. state, you should promptly seek the legal advice of a Tennessee medical malpractice attorney or a medical malpractice attorney in your state who may investigate your medical malpractice claim for you and represent you in a medical malpractice lawsuit, if appropriate.
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