The Tennessee Supreme Court heard arguments in September 2019 regarding the damages cap for personal injury lawsuits in this state. Currently, 30 of the 50 states in America have caps on the amount of money that the judge can award in a personal injury case.
The trouble is that a cap can interfere with the jury’s verdict. In several recent cases, the jury ruled to award amounts larger than the cap. The plaintiff will never receive that money, though, if the damages cap does not change.
The constitutionality of a damage cap
Some Tennessee individuals argue that the damages cap is unconstitutional because it interferes with the right to a trial by jury. If the cap determines the amount of the reward, the jury’s ruling does not matter. Individuals harmed by a defective product or unsafe business practices may decide not to bring up a lawsuit because they mistakenly think that the attorney’s fees will be more than the $750,000 in damages that the suit might garner.
If the Tennessee Supreme Court does decide to remove the cap, it will follow 11 other states who have ruled damages cap laws unconstitutional. It also may even the playing field for lower-income individuals seeking personal injury claims. At this time, the damages cap in Tennessee mainly applies to two types of damage awards.
Tennessee caps punitive damages at $750,000. This applies to cases where the jury finds the defendant guilty of negligence, reckless behavior or outrageous conduct. These damages act as a punishment for the person at fault more than as compensation for the injured person. Punitive damages alert the guilty parties to the severe consequences of their actions.
Tennessee also caps noneconomic damages at $750,000. These refer to pain, suffering or mental anguish experienced after an injury. For many who unfortunately are the victim of an accident, the road to recovery is long and can include costs far beyond the medical bills. Noneconomic damages seek to make restitution for that suffering.