Tag Archives: torts

Judge finds TN tort reform law in violation of state constitution

A Hamilton County circuit court judge ruled Monday that Tennessee’s $750,000 cap on certain civil jury awards violates the state constitution, possibly setting up a Tennessee Supreme Court review of Gov. Bill Haslam’s 2011 tort reform initiative.

From the Chattanooga Times-Free Press report:

Monday’s ruling is the latest step in the complicated and long-running fight over tort reform, which in Tennessee was last tweaked in 2011 as part of the Civil Justice Act. That act decreed that doctors and other businesses are limited to personal injury lawsuit payouts of $750,000.

Judge W. Neil Thomas argued in a ruling filed in Hamilton County Circuit Court on Monday afternoon that the state doesn’t have a constitutional right to cap noneconomic damages, which he says should be called “pain and suffering damages,” paid to plaintiffs. In a harsh rebuke of the law, Thomas says it is an affront to juries, which should be able to award damages as they see fit.

(Note: Article I, Section 6, of the Tennessee constitution says the ‘right of trial by jury shall remain inviolate’ and the basic argument is that, if the legislature is restricting damages a jury can award, the right of trial by jury is not inviolate.)

“The sole thrust of the legislation is not to change the law of responsibility between individuals but to limit, and, therefore, express distrust of, juries and their verdicts,” Thomas wrote.

Thomas’ opinion could lead to the law being struck down if Tennessee’s Supreme Court agrees with his arguments.

“You’re kidding me,” stunned House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, said when informed of Thomas’ ruling by a Times Free Press reporter at the state Capitol Monday evening.

McCormick said he’s “terribly disappointed” by the ruling and hopes the state will appeal it. State lawmakers should be ready to correct any problems, he said.

“That’s the first I’ve heard anybody saying that would be unconstitutional, that lawyers would be limited in what kind of money they would make through lawsuits,” McCormick said. “It sounds like something that the trial lawyers should be celebrating and [Thomas] is doing their work for them.”

In the case at issue, Donald and Beverly Clark have sought “pain and suffering” damages of $22.5 million from Aimee Cain and AT&T. When AT&T moved for partial summary judgment to dismiss any noneconomic damages in excess of $750,000, Thomas ruled that wouldn’t be possible because he does not interpret the current cap as constitutional.

Note: The TFP has the full text of Judge Thomas’ ruling posted HERE.

A Tort Story: Haslam, Et Al Vs. Thompson, Et Al

(Note: This is an unedited version of a story written for Sunday’s News Sentinel.)
Bill Haslam says Tennessee needs to become more friendly toward business while Fred Thompson says that the centerpiece of his plans for doing so would unnecessarily make the state more hostile to human suffering.
Going by arguments presented to state legislators, that seems the gist of the clash between Republican Haslam, elected governor last year, and Republican Thompson, elected to the U.S. Senate twice in the 1990s, over the Tennessee Civil Justice Act of 2011.
The proposed new law, HB2008, would impose a new and comprehensive set of restrictions on lawsuits for injuries and deaths caused by negligence or wrongful actions.
“Folks, we’re about to kill a mouse with a bazooka here,” said Thompson, a lawyer, actor and 2008 Republican presidential candidate retained by the Tennessee Association of Justice for an undisclosed fee to lobby against the bill.
Thompson and others opposing the bill related to legislators horrific stories of people victimized by seemingly callous disregard for human life. Tennessee’s present system of civil justice already has ample restrictions in place against abuses that have plagued other states and, as Thompson said, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
There is an armada of lobbyists and influential groups joining Haslam in pushing for passage of the bill, which expected to face its first vote this week. Three organizations have been set up to present legislators and the public with the proposition that “lawsuit abuse” and “jackpot justice” are moving into Tennessee, deterring business investment and frightening doctors and other health care professionals.
One of the tort reform advocacy groups, Tennesseans for Economic Growth, presented lawmakers with “economic study” asserting that approval of Haslam’s bill would create 122,422 new jobs and $16.2 billion in “additional economic output” in the state over the next 10 years over what would occur without passage. Thompson said the group paid $100,000 for the study and depicted it as meaningless propaganda.

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A Sampling of ‘Tort Reform’ PR, For and Against

Attempts to sway opinions one way or the other on Gov. Bill Haslam’s tort reform plans (HB2008) are well underway with the first voting by legislators in the works for next week.
A sampling of such PR efforts is provided below. I think it’s fair to say the thrust of proponent PR is financial benefits to businesses and professions while the thrust of opponent PR is impact on human lives.

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Thompson on Torts: Haslam Bill ‘Killing a Mouse With a Bazooka’

Former U.S. Sen. Fred Thompson, serving as a lobbyist, told a House subcommittee Wednesday that enacting Gov. Bill Haslam’s proposed tort reform bill would amount to “killing a mouse with a bazooka.”
The lawyer and actor was one of several witnesses testifying both for and against HB2008. No vote was taken, but the panel will consider the bill against next week.
Among those testifying for the bill was Charlie Ross, a Mississippi lawyer who as a state senator led tort reform efforts in that state. He said Mississippi was a “judicial hell hole” before reform with limits on non-economic damages and now is attracting more business investment because of predictability in outcome of lawsuits.
But Thompson said predictability is not in the public interest. He cited examples of a teenage girl dying after being given five times the normal dose of drugs for a tonsil removal and a tractor-trailer that crashed into a parked car, burning to death a mother and her daughter.
“I don’t think anesthetists or the people who change tires on 18-wheelers… ought to have predictability,” he said. “I think they out to think, ‘If I don’t exercise a reasonable amount of care, I don’t know what a Tennessee jury is going to do’.”

Tort Topic: $19 Million Vs. $101,000

Justin Owen, president of the Tennessee Center for Policy Research, has cited a $19 million award in a Putnam County lawsuit as an example of the need for tort reform in Tennessee. His opinion piece ran on Tennessean op-ed page and is available on TCRP’s website.
The Tennessee Association for Justice, formerly known as the Tennessee Trial Lawyers, today circulated a news release saying the facts of the Putnam County case are misrepresented and the actual money collected by the quadriplegic plaintiff was $101,000.
The TAJ news release and Owen’s article are both reproduced below.

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Thompson on Torts: Parts of Haslam Bill Good, Parts Unwise

Fred Thompson paid a “courtesy call” on Gov. Bill Halslam to discuss the tort reform bill pushed by the governor and then did an interview with Mike Morrow on his current career, including a gig as lobbyist for the Tennessee Association of Justice against key provisions of governor’sthe legislation – such as damage caps.
Thompson indicates there may be room to compromise on the legislation.
“There’s probably a hundred little pieces to all this,” he said. “In the ideal situation, part of what I’m trying to encourage — maybe the main function I have — is to try to get a discussion on those pieces and what works, and how it works, and what makes sense and what doesn’t make sense, and so at the end of the day people look at it and say, ‘I hear you, I understand what you’re saying, but I also see the other side and on balance I’m going to go with the other side.'”
And for a career update on the former U.S. senator, presidential candidate, radio talk show host:
Tennesseans may find it difficult to keep up with Thompson, who has had a remarkably varied career. When asked Wednesday for an update on his workload, Thompson said he does some legal consulting, makes speeches, is a spokesman for AAG Mortgage and does an occasional movie or television show.
He appeared in the 2010 film about a thoroughbred, Secretariat, and has a couple of other yet-to-be-released screen appearances “in the can,” one of which is about the last days of Hank Williams Sr., which Thompson said will probably be on a cable channel. He will perform on an episode of the television program “The Good Wife,” which is shooting next month.
He is also writing, with a book that will focus on the “first principles of our country kind of thing.” He recently ended his radio talk show and said that, while enjoyable, he found the experience “very confining” while trying to be involved in other projects.
“I’ve got my fingers in a lot of different pies,” he said.