Noneconomic damages may be difficult to put a dollar amount on, but this is exactly what judges and juries do every day. They do have guidance, though, and in Tennessee, they also have a statutory cap that limits the amount they may award.
According to a press release from the Tennessee State Courts, the Tennessee Supreme Court has recently issued a decision on a case that challenged whether the statutory cap was constitutional. The case that sparked the decision involved a plaintiff who received noneconomic damages of $930,000 for permanent injury, pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life. However, because of the cap, the maximum for a civil liability action in most cases is $750,000, so the defendant sought a reduction to the original judgment.
The plaintiff claimed that the cap violates the state’s constitution, but the Supreme Court disagreed, stating that a jury still has the ability to determine how much to award, even though the trial court limits the amount afterward. The plaintiff also stated that the legislature overstepped its authority in imposing the law on the courts, violating the constitution’s separation of powers provision. The Supreme Court rejected this, as well, concluding that changing the law is within the legislature’s responsibilities, and the court still has the authority to interpret the law.
The plaintiff’s third claim was that the cap had an unequal and unfair impact on women and violated the equal protection provisions of the constitution. The court ruled that the plaintiff was not able to provide any evidence of a discriminatory purpose, and therefore, the claim did not fall within the jurisdiction of the court.
Although these three claims failed to improve the outcome plaintiffs who seek noneconomic damages, there may be other personal injury cases in the future that result in a different approach and outcome. Personal injury lawyers with a focus on tort reform are often alert to ways that they may seek to improve their clients’ judgments.