TN Supreme Court vacates Trial Court’s Ruling that Tort Reform is Unconstitutional and leaves the issue unresolved

According to the ruling, the Tennessee Supreme Court decided to set aside the decision made last March by  Hamilton County Judge, Neil Thomas, who ruled a 2011 state law, which was a “tort reform” initiative of Republican Gov. Bill Haslam, capping certain personal injury damages at $750,000 is unconstitutional. Judge Thomas had issued a well reasoned decision explaining how the law violates Tennessee’s Constitutional Right to have a jury decided all issues at trial. Regardless, the Supreme Court set the decision aside because they stated that the case did not proceed far enough yet to warrant such a ruling. A move that will simply delay a ruling that will have to be decided at some point.


The case in which the first decision was made involved ruling by Circuit Judge W. Neil Thomas III on a $25 million-plus negligence lawsuit filed by Donald and Beverly Clark against several divisions of AT&T and one of its employees, Aimee Cain. The suit also named then-Tennessee Attorney General Robert Cooper because of the constitutional issues being raised. The couple filed a lawsuit against AT&T because of an automobile accident that injured Clark. The lawsuit sought a ruling on the constitutionality of the state law that caps non-economic damages at $750,000 for certain personal injury cases. Non-economic damages are applicable when pain and suffering is involved or there is a physical impairment or other similar injury.

The defendant filed a motion for partial summary judgment and the judge ruled that the cap was unconstitutional even though no decision had been made yet by the jury about the liability or the amount of damages that would be awarded. In his ruling, Judge Thomas reasoned that the state doesn’t have a constitutional right to cap non-economic damages, which he stated should be called “pain and suffering damages,” that are paid to plaintiffs. In a rebuke of the law, Thomas called it an affront to juries, which he stated should be able to award damages as they see fit.
The justices noted that they had dealt with a similar issue of “justiciability and ripeness” last summer in a criminal case. “Ripeness” refers to a court questioning whether or not a case or dispute has proceeded far enough that a judicial decision is needed. The justices stated that, “Ripeness is peculiarly a question of timing. Its basic rationale is to prevent the courts, through avoidance of premature adjudication, from entangling themselves in abstract disagreements.”
Justices vacated Thomas’ ruling and remanded the case back to the trial court.
If you or someone you care about has been injured in an automobile or another type of accident and you are concerned about how this decision could affect the amount of damages that you could receive or if you want to know if you are eligible for compensation, you should contact one of our compassionate and experienced personal injury lawyers at the Higgins Firm. We will help you determine how this may affect your case. We will also help you to get any compensation that may be rightfully yours for what you and your loved ones have been through.

Please contact us today online or by calling 800.705.2121 to discuss your legal options.

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