The Dispute Over Tennessee’s Tort Reform Returns to the Legislature

In what is becoming a common topic on legal blogs and in the media, the tort reform caps imposed by the Tennessee Civil Justice Act are again the focus of legal and legislative attention, but this time for different reasons.  In light of recent legal challenges to the constitutionality of the cap, advocacy groups representing Tennessee doctors are seeking a constitutional amendment to the Tennessee constitution that would limit the authority of the courts to question the constitutionality of the tort reform caps.

As many are now aware, earlier this year, Hamilton County Judge W. Neil Thomas overturned the noneconomic damages caps imposed under the Tennessee Civil Justice Act. The Act limits claims for damages related to pain and suffering or emotional distress to $750,000 in a medical liability lawsuit.  In his decision, Judge Thomas held that these limitations were unconstitutional because they limited the right of the jury to make a determination as to the damages award amount they felt was appropriate.  However, in October of this year, the Tennessee Supreme Court also weighed in on the topic, finding that Judge Thomas’ ruling was premature because the jury had not yet attempted to award plaintiffs damages in excess of the cap.  Accordingly, the Tennessee Supreme Court overturned Judge Thomas’ decision and remanded back to the Hamilton courts for further consideration at the time of trial.  Notably, the Tennessee Supreme Court explicitly declined to weigh in on the constitutionality of the noneconomic damages cap.

As it stands, the tort reform caps in place for medical malpractice and liability claims seem on shaky ground.  While the Supreme Court overturned Judge Thomas’ decision, it did not explicitly disagree with his legal rationale for finding the limits unconstitutional. For this reason, medical lobbyists and advocacy groups, including the Tennessee Medical Association, have decided to take matters into their own hands rather than wait for the eventual reconsideration of the issues by the courts.

In their recently released 2016 legislative priorities, the TMA and doctors associated with the group are proposing a constitutional amendment to the Tennessee Constitution that would state that the Tennessee General Assembly has the authority to to set caps for noneconomic actions in medical liability lawsuits. According to the TMA, such a constitutional amendment is urgently needed in order to prevent rising health care costs as a result of high medical malpractice rates.  Plaintiffs’ lawyers and advocates oppose the notion of a constitutional amendment, since it would continue to enforce limitations on the ability of people injured by medical malpractice to recover compensation for the pain and suffering they have experienced. While the amendment will be proposed in the upcoming legislative session, it would be a long road to its possible adoption. First, the amendment must pass two separate General Assemblies. If it is successful, it would then be put on a ballot for public voting in either 2018 or 2022.

With the many updates and challenges to tort reform over the past year, it can be difficult to know which damages may be available to you if you are considering a personal injury or medical malpractice claim.  Committed personal injury attorney Eric Beasley has extensive experience representing injured plaintiffs in tort actions throughout Tennessee and is available to answer your questions. For more information on your legal rights, contact the Law Office of Eric Beasley today at 615-859-2223.

Related Blog Posts:

Tennessee Supreme Court Reverses Course on Damages Cap, Tennessee Personal Injury Blog, November 5, 2015

Questioning the Constitutionality of Tennessee’s Cap on Pain and Suffering Damages After an Automobile Accident, , Tennessee Personal Injury Blog, October 17, 2015

Personal Injury 101, Tennessee Personal Injury Blog, August 10, 2015