SCOTN Sets Aside Lower Court’s Ruling Against Haslam’s Tort Reforms

Press release from the Administrative Office of the Tennessee Courts, Oct. 19, 2015:

Supreme Court Vacates Decision Finding Damage Caps Unconstitutional

The Supreme Court has set aside the decision of a Hamilton County trial court that had ruled a state law putting a cap on certain personal injury damages to be unconstitutional.

The case is a negligence lawsuit by Donald and Beverly Clark against several divisions of AT&T and one of its employees. The couple is suing for more than $25 million in damages as a result of an automobile accident that injured Mr. Clark. In the suit, the couple also 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 apply in situations where there is pain and suffering, physical impairment, disfigurement, or other similar circumstances.

After the defendant filed a motion for partial summary judgment, the trial judge ruled that the cap was unconstitutional, although no decision had yet been made by the jury as to liability or any amount of damages. The decision on the constitutionality was appealed as an interlocutory appeal to the Court of Appeals, which declined to consider the issue. Interlocutory appeals are appeals of specific elements of a case while the case in full is still being considered in a lower court.

The parties then asked the Supreme Court to consider the issue. The Court determined that the trial court acted prematurely in considering the motion for summary judgment on the issue of damages. The Court wrote in an order that the issue was not “ripe” for the Court to consider the constitutionality at this point, because there had been no final decision rendered or any award of non-economic damages in excess of the statutory cap. The trial court ruling was vacated and the case will now resume in the trial court.

Read the Court’s order in Donald M. Clark et al. v. Aimee L. Cain et al. here.