Tennessee Judge Strikes Down Law Which Caps Tort Awards that Victims Can Receive

USA Today reports that a judge in Williamson County, Tennessee struck down a law which limits how much money victims can receive in tort cases.

Circuit Court Judge Michael Binkley overturned the limit on compensatory damages in a case that was brought to trial in March. This law was first passed during the 2011 legislative session and would then be found unconstitutional in 2019.

This law covered non-economic damages, or non-monetary losses that can’t be quantified, for example, permanent disability, trauma or pain and suffering. The cap does not apply in the case that the defendant is convicted of a felony that brought about the injury.

Brandon Bass, the legal counsel for the plaintiff, Jennifer Carman, expressed his gratitude towards Binkley’s ruling.

“It takes a lot of courage and honor to stand up and say other elected officials did something beyond their power,” Bass stated.

A truck driver struck Carman while she was running on Edmondson Pike in March 2017. After the collision, Carman lost the use of one eye and also lost her thumb.

“My argument is, having a jury trial and then throwing away the jury’s verdict to use what the legislature decided as a one-size-fits-all is unconstitutional,” Bass added. “The state’s argument is that the legislature can decide that issue.”

Initially, Dayne Kellon would have had to pay Carman more than $3 million in non-economic damages.

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However, under the 2011 law, the maximum amount of non-economic damages to be awarded was set to $750,000. Due to Dayne Kellon being found 40 percent responsible, the damages assessed against her were brought down to $300,000.

The Carmans made the case that the cap on non-economic damages violated their constitutional right to a jury trial.

Binkley was in agreement, writing in his judgement that the cap is “unconstitutional on its face” and pointed out that the Tennessee Constitution declares “the right of trial by jury shall remain inviolate.”

According to the Center for Justice and Democracy at New York Law School, Tennessee is one of nine states with limits on non-economic damages in general tort or personal injury cases.

States like Florida, Kansas and Illinois have seen similar caps struck down by courts as unconstitutional.

Bass argues that caps on those damages ultimately hurt low-income citizens.

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For individuals who are victims of major losses caused by a hospital or manufacturer, “the cost of those cases are so high that many lawyers just say ‘No, I can’t do it,'” Bass claimed.

“This $750,000 limit does not affect the person who has a minor back strain. It affects the person who’s suffered catastrophic losses that will affect them for the rest of their lives,” Bass stated. “That’s fundamentally unfair to me. That’s not what justice is supposed to be about.”

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