Is Tennessee’s $750k Non-Economic Damages Cap Unconstitutional?

By Thompson Law

Damages in a personal injury case shouldn’t just be limited to medical expenses, lost wages, and property damage. In many cases, people who are injured in car accidents suffer mental and emotional trauma, as well as other forms of pain and suffering. These damages are considered non-economic and may be compensated with incontestable evidence.

According to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, about nine percent of serious crash survivors develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Sixty percent of those who seek mental health treatment after a traumatic crash are diagnosed with PTSD.

Some crash survivors even develop additional mental health conditions, such as severe depression and anxiety — both of which can make it difficult to return to work, adjust to daily life, and engage in enjoyable activities.

In some cases, crash survivors become permanently incapacitated or experience loss of a limb. A permanent or serious injury can have a prolonged impact on a crash survivor’s mental and emotional health.

Challenging Tennessee’s non-economic damages cap

Unfortunately, Tennessee currently has a $750,000 cap on non-economic damages in personal injury claims. This means, if an injured party’s pain and suffering was determined to be $1 million, he or she would not be compensated for any amount exceeding $750,000.

Whether or not this cap is constitutional is currently up for debate in the Tennessee Supreme Court. This comes on the heels of a personal injury case (Jodi McClay v. Airport Management Services, LLC) in which the plaintiff was awarded non-economic damages greater than the $750,000 cap — totaling $930,000. The plaintiff was also awarded $444,500 for future medical expenses.

Questions are raised

The defendant, Airport Management Services, LLC, attempted a motion to apply the general cap of $750,000. Despite the Tennessee Supreme Court not determining the constitutionality of the cap, three questions were raised by the District Court:

  • Does the noneconomic damages cap in civil cases imposed by Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-39-102 violate a plaintiff’s right to a trial by jury, as guaranteed in Article I, Section 6 of the Tennessee Constitution?

  • Does the noneconomic damages cap in civil cases imposed by Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-39-102 violate Tennessee’s constitutional doctrine of separation of powers between the legislative branch and the judicial branch?

  • Does the noneconomic damages cap in civil cases imposed by Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-39-102 violate the Tennessee Constitution by discrimination disproportionately against women?

This case marks a milestone for personal injury cases in Tennessee and is hopefully a step in the right direction. A serious crash or another injurious incident can have a lifelong impact on those affected. At Thompson Law, we agree that placing a cap on non-economic damages is unconstitutional and immoral.

If you were injured because of someone else’s negligence, one of our personal injury attorneys would be glad to help you explore your legal options and build a strong legal claim. To learn more, contact us online.

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