Mar 10

Chattanooga Judge Rules Tennessee’s Caps on Damages Unconstitutional

In the Tennessee Civil Justice Act of 2011, the legislature set a monetary limit on the amount of damages a jury could award for pain and suffering – also called “noneconomic damages.”  Judge W. Neil Thomas, III of the Hamilton County Circuit Court held that Tennessee’s cap on noneconomic damages violates the Tennessee Constitution.  The law, which requires judges to disregard jury verdicts, was found to be “an affront to the diligent and hard-working jurors” and “a statement that they are not really needed,” wrote Judge Thomas.  The right to a jury trial was found to be a fundamental constitutional right.

The cap was a hotly contested issue.  The questionable reasons and justifications advanced for its need left many unanswered questions.  Critics of the Tennessee Civil Justice Act argued there was no need for it and that no data or facts had been shown in support of the stated purpose behind the arbitrary caps.  Judge Thomas wrote that 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.”

The case is Clark v. Cain and AT&T.  The full article with the written opinion of Judge Thomas can be found here.  An appeal is expected to happen.  The issue is likely to be heard by the Tennessee Supreme Court.

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