It appears the Tennessee State Legislature is being lobbied by medical doctors to take up in its 2016 session measures that would make it impossible for Tennessee courts to strike down a 2011 law capping jury awards in medical malpractice lawsuits by amending Tennessee’s constitution.
To summarize, in 2011 the Tennessee legislature passed arguably the worst legislation in the body’s history introduced by Governor Haslam and changing 200 years of law — the Tennessee Civil Justice Act. The bill is commonly referred to as Tennessee’s Tort Reform Act. Within the Act, the legislature placed a statutory cap (a limit or ceiling) on non-economaic damages that can be awarded in personal injury and wrongful death cases at $750,000 or, in cases involving catastrophic injuries at $1 million.
The focus of the legislation is on health care providers, although most of the provisions of the legislation extend to all forms of tort claims based on negligence or alleged fraud, including product liability actions and proposed class action consumer protection claims.
The impact of the Tennessee Tort Reform Act On Medical Malpractice Cases is that it has severely limited the rights of individuals who try to pursue a claim against their health care provider when the health care provider was careless or negligent.
With current activity at the circuit court level where, for example, a Hamilton County judge ruled in March of this year that the Tort Reform Act $750,000 cap on certain civil jury awards to be unconstitutional, doctors are fearing it could be the beginning of the dismantling of the 2011 legislation. Judge W. Neil Thomas found in his ruling that the state doesn’t have a constitutional right to cap noneconomic damages, which he said should be called “pain and suffering damages,” paid to plaintiffs.
The Times Free Press of Chattanooga just reported a few days ago on November 25th that The Tennessee Medical Association wants lawmakers to put before voters new constitutional language making the argument that the General Assembly does have authority to set caps on noneconomic damages such as pain and suffering in cases involving medical malpractice liability.
The Tennessee Medical Association’s plan would require lobbying lawmakers in the current 109th General Assembly to approve a proposed constitutional amendment in 2016, and then pass the legislation off to their successors in the 110th General Assembly to pass by a two-thirds majority. If it wins approval from lawmakers, it would go before voters on the 2018 ballot to decide.
If you think medical doctors should be held accountable for causing harm to a patient due to negligence, you should phone your State Representative and urge him or her that caps are unconstitutional, just as the Hamilton County Judge ruled in March.