Limited Damages in Consortium Claim
On June 2, 2021, the Tennessee Supreme Court decided the case of Yebuah et al., v. Center for Urological Treatment, PLC., No. M2018-01652-SC-R11-CV. Yebuah was a healthcare liability action involving an application of the statutory cap on non-economic damages to loss of consortium claims. In Tennessee, there are often two plaintiffs in personal injury cases, the physically injured party and that person's spouse. The spouse sues for loss of consortium - legalese that refers to the love, services, and affection provided by a spouse. Consider, for example, an injury to your spouse, leading to a lack of help around the house, love, and affection. Both you and your spouse would sue the at-fault party, your spouse seeking damages for the physical injury and you seeking damages for your spouse's inability to function as he or she did.
So, what exactly did the Yebuah Court hold and why do you care? The Court held that Tennessee's statutory cap on non-economic damages applies in the aggregate to the plaintiffs in total. The cap limits non-economic damages (i.e. pain and suffering) to $750,000.00. A defendant knows that is the max they can owe for non-economic damages at the conclusion of a trial. Economic damages (i.e. loss wages and medical bills) remain free of any caps but are easily computed. So, going into a trial, a defendant will have a concrete number that represents their worst day in court - economic damages plus $750,000.00. The Yebuah Court provided clarity that the cap applies to the non-economic damages in the aggregate, as opposed to per plaintiff. This will be considered a win by the insurance industry and Tennessee's defense attorneys.
Of note, Tennessee's Supreme Court decided the case on a 3-2 split vote, meaning the decision is not unanimous. It is still binding precedent, but we will see how the damages cap holds up in the coming years. It is beyond the scope of this article, but capping damages is a hot button issue across the country and worth reading about if you have 2-3 days of free time.
LEGAL JARGON DISCLAIMER: The foregoing is not legal advice. Even if you construe it that way, it’s probably only worth what you paid for it. I am an attorney but am not yours.
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