In 2011, the Tennessee Legislature enacted the “Tennessee Civil Justice Act.”  Like with many pieces of tort-reform legislation, the title of the Act is a misnomer.  The primary goal of enacting the Civil Justice Act was to place limits on the amount of damages a victim can recover from an at-fault person or corporation. These limits are commonly referred to as “caps on damages.”  Again, that is a misnomer.  Damages are the harms and losses a victim suffers.  The law does nothing to limit or reduce the harms and losses felt by a victim.  However, it does effectively limit the amount of money a jury can allow in compensating a victim for those harms and losses.  

T.C.A. §29-39-102 places a monetary limit on the amount recoverable for non-economic harms and losses, i.e., those harms and losses the law recognizes for disfigurement, permanent injury, physical and emotional pain, suffering, loss of the ability to enjoy life, humiliation, and, in the case of death of a loved one, the loss of companionship, support, love, and society.  In addition, the Civil Justice Act places monetary limits on the amount of punitive damages a jury can assess against a reckless or intentional wrongdoer.

The “caps on damages” have the effect of precisely targeting those victims who have suffered the greatest harms and losses.  The more devastating the harms, the greater protections the Act affords the wrongdoer by shielding him from full accountability.  The Civil Justice Act protects wrongdoers without regard to whether the victim is a teenager who suffers an amputation or young mother who will spend the rest of her life in a wheelchair.  In those instances, reasonable minds can agree that the harms and losses exceed the monetary limits imposed by the Civil Justice Act, yet precisely because of the Act, the person or company that carelessly caused those harms will not be held accountable for the full extent of the victims’ damages. 

Recently, the Tennessee Supreme Court accepted a certified question from a Tennessee Federal District Court indicating that it is willing to decide whether these “caps on damages” violate the Tennessee Constitution.  Over the next year or so, all eyes will be on our State’s Highest Court to see how it will answer this question.  It’s likely that this case will garner attention and influence from all across the State from the legal and business communities.  The issue to before the Court will be whether the Act’s “caps on damages” violate the Tennessee Constitution’s grant of a right to trial by jury. 

Under Article I, §6 of the Tennessee Constitution, every citizen of this State has a right to a jury trial for cases involving injuries and death caused by another’s carelessness. This constitutional right includes the right to have a jury of fellow Tennesseans decide the value of a victim’s harms and losses.  In Tennessee, a jury verdict must be unanimous among all jurors.  Many believe that the Civil Justice Act infringes on this right and silences the voice of Tennessee jurors under certain circumstances.  For instance, assume a jury hears evidence of the harms and losses suffered by a young mother who was paralyzed due to the carelessness of a speeding truck driver, and, after hearing that evidence, the jury decides the value of the victim’s non-economic harms and losses is $1.5 Million. In that scenario, the Civil Justice Act will substantially reduce the jury’s valuation of those harms thereby silencing the jury’s unanimous voice to the extent it awarded more money than the Act allows.  In such a case, the victim’s constitutional right to have a jury decide the value of her harms and losses has been violated, or at least that is the argument now before the Tennessee Supreme Court.   

Tennessee is not the first state to place limits on the damages recoverable by its citizens. Caps on damages have been attempted all across the Country, but many similar laws have been found unconstitutional by the highest courts of those states.  Depending on how our State’s highest court rules, Tennessee may join other states like Georgia, Alabama, Missouri, and Florida in ruling that “caps on damages” violate the constitutional rights of our citizens. Until that time, Tennesseans remain at the mercy of our State Government to tell us the most our lives are worth. 

$2.1 Million Verdict - maury county

Recently, the Matthews Firm attorneys helped obtain a $2.1 Million verdict for the family of a man who passed away due to mesothelioma. Our firm, along with co-counsel from Dallas, Texas, tried this wrongful death products liability case in Columbia, Tennessee. Our client was an industrial maintenance mechanic at a local chemical plant. As part of his work in the 1970’s and 1980’s, he was regularly exposed asbestos containing products. Asbestos exposure is a known cause of mesothelioma. At trial, we were able to show that the Defendants’ asbestos-containing products were regularly used by our client in the chemical plant. We were also able to prove that the Defendants’ had knowledge of the harmful effects of asbestos, yet chose to continue manufacturing and selling the asbestos-containing products. After a week-long trial before a Middle Tennessee jury, we were able to obtain a total verdict of approximately $2.1 Million.

tennessee worst in the country for distracted driving deaths

A recent study of distracted driving fatalities across the United States has concluded that Tennessee is the worst state in the country for distracted driving deaths. The study found that Tennessee, along with Delaware, Wyoming, Texas, and Montana were among the five worst states in the U.S. The study attributed distracted driving to cell phone use by drivers. It concluded that the rate of distracted driving fatalities for Tennessee motorists was nearly 5 times that of the national average. A copy of the study can be found online here: While Tennessee does have laws to prevent use of cell phones behind the wheel, the study concluded that Tennessee’s texting and driving laws were not as strict when compared to many other states. For example, the Tennessee law that prohibits texting and driving, T.C.A. §55-8-199, only prohibits the use of a cell phone for sending and reading a text message or email behind the wheel. It does not prohibit using a cell phone for purposes of making or receiving a voice call, e.g., looking up a telephone number in your phone, unless it’s in a school zone. Recently, the Tennessee Legislature enacted T.C.A. §55-8-207 which made it a crime to talk on a cell phone in an active school zone, unless the driver is using a hands-free device. In addition to Tennessee laws, drivers of commercial vehicles and tractor trailer trucks may be subject to various federal regulations, such as the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations, which also set rules for use of cell phones and similar devices.