How are damages restricted under Tennessee's tort reform?

The Tennessee Civil Justice Act of 2011 has changed many aspects of civil litigation in the state. According to the Tennessee Bar Association, this tort reform law restricts the amount of compensation that victims can receive in personal injury and wrongful death lawsuits.

One of the most substantial changes under this law is that it places a $750,000 limit on the noneconomic damages that can be awarded in civil claims. Noneconomic damages are subjective amounts, such as those awarded for pain and suffering. This compensation cap does not apply in instances in which the defendant intentionally inflicted harm on the plaintiff. The limit does not change if more than one defendant is found liable. 

There is an exception to this rule. Plaintiffs who suffered a catastrophic loss or injury can obtain up to $1 million in noneconomic damages. This exception can apply to victims who became paraplegic or quadriplegic due to spinal cord injuries, victims who suffered third degree burns that affected more than 40 percent of the body or face, foot or hand amputees, and wrongful death victims who left minor children.  

The Civil Justice Act also caps punitive damages at the greater of $500,000 or two times the compensatory damage. The exceptions to this include situations in which the defendant:

  • Specifically intended to inflict serious physical harm
  • Destroyed or altered records to escape liability
  • Was intoxicated by drugs or alcohol when he or she caused the injury at issue

Because punitive damages are, as the name suggests, intended to punish wrongdoers, they will not apply in every personal injury or wrongful death case. 

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