July 2011 Archives

July 8, 2011

Tennessee legislature caps awards in civil cases

Tennessee became the latest state to enact a cap on non-economic damages when its Governor signed into law a so-called "tort reform" bill that limits damages such as pain and suffering.

Our Maryland attorneys have significant experience representing injured plaintiffs in personal injury cases including auto accidents and medical malpractice throughout the state of Maryland and the District of Columbia.

Tennessee's law places a $750,000 cap on non-economic damages and limits punitive damages at twice the amount of compensatory damages or $500,000, whichever is greater. The bill lifts the cap if the defendant is found to have intended to cause bodily injury.

Maryland, by contrast, currently caps non-economic damages at $740,000, with no cap on punitive damages. In Maryland, however, proving punitive damages requires proof of "actual malice." For this reason, awards of punitive damages in Maryland are rare.

Compensatory damages, including non-economic damages, are designed to make a Plaintiff whole. Punitive damages are designed to punish the wrongdoer.

A recent HBO documentary titled, "Hot Coffee" explored the human effects of caps on damages. Four states, including Nebraska and Virginia, however, have a cap on all damages - including economic damages.

In the HBO documentary, a Nebraska boy was injured at birth. As a result of the negligence of an obstetrician, he is severely brain damaged and will require a lifetime of care. A lifetime of medical care alone will cost in excess of $5 million. The jury awarded $5.5 million. But because Nebraska maintained a $1.75 million cap on all damages, his family received only $1.75 million (much of which went to expenses and attorney fees). That means that taxpayers get stuck with the bill, rather than the wrongdoer.

Although some state courts have ruled that caps on noneconomic damages are unconstitutional, the Maryland Court of Appeals ruled as recently as 2010 that Maryland's cap is constitutional.

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