TN Court of Appeals: Cap on Noneconomic Damages Must Be Applied Before Apportioning Fault
Tennessee law limits the amount of money a personal injury victim may receive in compensation for their “noneconomic damages,” such as pain and suffering or the loss of a deceased spouse’s companionship. This cap is $750,000. A jury is free to award more than this amount, but by law the trial judge will reduce the final judgment to comply with the $750,000 cap.
Judge Reduces $1.95 Million Award in Asbestos Case to Just $750,000
The Tennessee Court of Appeals recently addressed an interesting scenario related to the cap. In this case, Davis v. 3M Company, a widow filed a wrongful death lawsuit against multiple defendants, alleging they contributed to her late husband’s death by exposing him to asbestos. The widow ultimately settled or dismissed her claims against all of the defendants except for one. The remaining defendant proceeded to trial.
The jury ultimately returned a verdict for the widow. It calculated her total noneconomic damages at $1,950,000. The jury further determined that the remaining defendant was 13 percent at-fault for the victim’s death. The majority of fault was apportioned to the other defendants who were previously dismissed from the case.
The widow argued that based on the verdict, the remaining defendant should have to pay 13 percent of the full non-economic damages award, which would come to $269,258.11. This figure was still well below the $750,000 statutory cap. The defendant, however, argued that the judge should first reduce the $1,950,000 award to $750,000 and order it to pay 13 percent of that figure, which would only be about $100,000.
The trial court agreed with the defense’s approach. So did the Court of Appeals. In the latter’s opinion, issued on June 30 of this year, the appeals court noted that under the law, noneconomic damages “up to the amount of the statutory cap” must be “apportioned among all the liable defendants.” The widow argued that despite this language, when there is only one defendant actually on trial, the cap does not apply if their share of the full damages award is below $750,000.
The Court of Appeals replied that “even when only one defendant is named,” it is still possible, as demonstrated in this case, that a “nonparty” contributed to the plaintiff’s injuries. In other words, the jury can–and here, did–assign fault to other parties, even though they were no longer part of the lawsuit. Because of this, the court said it made more sense to “first reduce the jury’s award of noneconomic damages” before determining the sole defendant’s share of the damages.
Speak with a Tennessee Personal Injury Attorney Today
Tennessee’s damages cap unfairly punishes personal injury victims and their families by imposing arbitrary limits on a jury’s ability to decide a case. But it remains the law of the land, so it is just one more legal obstacle that must be navigated. If you, or someone in your family, has been harmed by the negligent act of others and you need representation from an experienced Nashville personal injury lawyer, contact Fox Willis Burnette, PLLC, today to schedule a free consultation.