Tennessee lawmakers on Friday gave final approval to the Tennessee Civil Justice Act of 2011, a major tort reform package and one of new Gov. Bill Haslam's very few legislative priorities to improve the state's business climate. In several votes in both chambers, the bill(s) (HB 2008 and SB 1522) passed by two-to-one margins, more or less.
- News release, "Haslam Applauds Final Passage of Tennessee Civil Justice Act!"
- News release from business coalition, "Tennesseans for Economic Growth Praise Governor Bill Haslam and Tennessee Lawmakers for Passing Comprehensive Civil Justice Reform Law"
- Nashville Public Radio, "Tort Reform Bill Heads to Governor, With Promise of More Debate in 2012"
- Memphis Commercial Appeal, "Tennessee House gives final approval to bill capping personal-injury damage awards"
- Southern Political Report, "Tennessee: Haslam, legislature enact conservative agenda"
Legislative debate over the bill took a celebrity turn when the Tennessee Association for Justice, the trial lawyer group, hired actor-turned-Senator-turned-actor Fred Thompson (R-TN) to lobby against the bill. The mixture of star power and avuncular testimony obviously didn't work.
Key provisions as identified in a news release from the Lieutenant Governor's office.
- The bill limits the maximum appeal bond amount from $75 million to $25 million or 125 percent of the judgment amount.
- It defines two components of compensatory damages: economic and non-economic damages.
- The measure places a cap on non-economic damages, which are subjective damages like pain and suffering, at $750,000 per injured plaintiff for both healthcare liability action and other personal injury actions. However, if the harm suffered is intentional, the caps would not apply.
- As amended, the bill raises the cap to $1.0 million if the plaintiff becomes a paraplegic or quadriplegic because of spinal cord injury, sustains third degree burns over 40 percent or more of his or her body or face, has an amputation of a hand or foot, or wrongfully dies leaving one or more minor children.
- There is no cap, under the measure, on economic damages and any damages that can be objectively quantified may be recovered.
- Caps punitive damages, which must be proved by clear and convincing evidence, at two times compensatory damage or $500,000, whichever is greater unless the defendant intended to injure the plaintiff, was under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or intentionally falsified records to avoid liability.
- Prevents punitive damages in products liability actions, unless the seller had substantial control over the design or manufacturing of the product or had actual knowledge of the defect in the product at the time it was sold.