Tennessee's Supreme Court Affirms Limit On Pain And Suffering
Tennessee’s General Assembly enacted a statutory cap on noneconomic damages in 2011. In lay terms, the legislature limited the amount of money of one can receive for pain and suffering as a result of a personal injury lawsuit. The legislation is found at T.C.A. 29-39-102(a)(2) and generally states “compensation for any noneconomic damages suffered by each injured plaintiff [is] not to exceed $750,000.00.” The cap is increased to $1,000,000.00 for “catastrophic loss or injury.”
Why is this important? There are two classes of damages in personal injury lawsuits, economic and noneconomic. Economic damages are easily calculated – lost wages, medical expenses, property damage, funeral expenses, etc. Noneconomic damages are awarded for mental and physical pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment of life, loss of consortium, etc., and are not easily calculated. At trial, the damages are usually decided by the jury. One can calculate the maximum number owed for economic damages, e.g., 200k in lost wages and 150k in medical expenses. But it is much more difficult to determine what a jury may award for noneconomic damages, e.g., loss of a leg, a death, PTSD as a result of an accident, or any of the other infinite number of potential injuries. With the cap on noneconomic damages of 750k, one can hypothetically determine the maximum award a jury could give, 750k plus whatever the economic damages total.
But for years the question has lingered as to whether the statutory cap on noneconomic damages violates the right to a jury trial provided by Tennessee’s Constitution. On February 26, 2020, Tennessee’s Supreme Court held that the cap does not violate Tennessee’s Constitution. I’ll spare you the details, but the case is McClay v. Airport Management Services, LLC, NO. M2019-00511-SC-R23-CV.
Does this change anything? For most of us, probably not. If you are badly injured by another, the maximum noneconomic damages you could recover will likely be 750k. Your economic damages remain unlimited. For example, if you are unable to work again, you could recover what your likely lifetime earnings would have been – hopefully a substantial number. For defendants and their insurance carriers, you can now calculate with reasonable certainty what your potential exposure is and decide if any personal assets are at risk in the event of an adverse jury award.
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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