Democrats: Haslam’s Tort Reform Substitutes Will of Politicians for Wisdom of Juries

Press Release from the Tennessee Senate Democratic Caucus, May 12, 2011:

NASHVILLE – Senate Democrats fought Thursday against efforts by Senate Republicans to arbitrarily cap damages awarded to victims of horrific accidents, medical malpractice and other life-changing injuries.

“Today state lawmakers put a price on the life of our children. They put a price on the life of our parents and grandchildren. They put a price on the life of the weak, the paralyzed, the neglected — all under the guise of economic development,” Senator Eric Stewart of Belvidere said.

House Bill 2008, as passed by the Senate 21-12, would cap damages for pain and suffering awarded by a court to $750,000, and $1 million for severe injuries. Currently Tennessee does not have a cap on such damages.

“By passing this law, lawmakers are taking the decision-making process away from a jury of citizens and telling them that the government doesn’t trust them to make the right decision,” Senator Andy Berke of Chattanooga said.

Punitive damages would be capped at the greater of either $500,000 or twice the amount of the combined economic and non-economic damages. Because economic damages include lost wages, the total payouts will be lower for those who make less.

Sen. Roy Herron noted during floor debate that a young quadriplegic woman receiving the maximum amount possible under the caps would receive an estimated $29 per day over the remainder of her life.

An Associated Press story noted that last year in Tennessee, only 14 trials exceeded the proposed caps, meaning there would be no radical change to the state’s job creation climate, as supporters claim.

“We should be up here talking about measures to create jobs and put people back to work,” said Chairman Lowe Finney of Jackson. “This legislation doesn’t create jobs. Instead, it hurts those who need help the most.”

The bill will now go to Governor Bill Haslam, who is expected to sign the legislation.