Legal Challenge to TN Limits on Lawsuit Damages In the Works

How much patients in Tennessee can recover for their pain and suffering could be significantly affected in the coming months if the state’s Supreme Court hears a challenge of a new law that limits medical malpractice awards, reports The Tennessean.
The issue has taken on urgency as fungal meningitis victims start to craft medical malpractice lawsuits and attorneys weigh whether the suits will be filed in Tennessee or in Massachusetts, where injured patients can sue medical facilities for unlimited amounts of money for pain and suffering.
Gov. Bill Haslam signed the Tennessee Civil Justice Act of 2011 into law last July. The law does not restrict how much patients can recover in medical bills and lost wages in malpractice suits. But it caps rewards for nontangible injuries, such as pain and suffering, at $750,000. About half of the states limit awards for pain and suffering in malpractice cases, and for years legal battles have been waged throughout the country to overturn the caps. Tennessee could emerge as the latest battlefield.
Trial lawyer David Randolph Smith, a prominent progressive attorney who led the legal opposition to the guns-in-bars law and the English-only ballot measure, filed a federal lawsuit three months ago challenging Haslam’s landmark tort reform law as unconstitutional.
…Recent decisions in other states offer conflicting results.
Earlier this month, the Kansas Supreme Court upheld its $250,000 cap on pain and suffering damages.
In August, however, the high court in Missouri struck down caps on liability payouts. The Missouri court’s majority opinion said: “The right to trial by jury … is not subject to legislative limits on damages.”
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(Note: The different rulings may turn on differences in state constitutions and the federal court may send the case to the state Supreme Court for a decision on whether the damages limitation violates the Tennessee constitution. A relevant provision is in Article I, Section 6 of the state constitution’s Bill of Rights: “That the right of trial by jury shall remain inviolate, and no religious or political test shall ever be required as a qualification for jurors.” )

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