Recent Chattanooga Bus Crash Highlights State’s Personal Injury Award Limits

Charlotte Personal Injury Attorney Matt Arnold answers the question: How does the law of contributory negligence play a role in my case?


Tennessee has been in the news several times recently for very unfortunate reasons. Most recently was the terrible fire that swept through Gatlinburg and, before that, was the deadly bus crash in Chattanooga that left six children dead. That sad episode inadvertently highlighted a law in Tennessee that was implemented years ago and works to shield wrongdoers at the expense of innocent victims, in this case, the families of those fatally injured school children.


School-bus-Charlotte-Injury-Award-Lawyer-300x178The law that the tragic case focuses attention on is the Tennessee Civil Justice Act of 2011. The bill was passed by the legislature and signed into law by Governor Bill Haslam. The purpose of the measure is to limit what a jury can award in personal injury cases. The hope is to restrict what some see as out of control personal injury awards. Critics say the law works instead to protect wrongdoers at the expense of victims.


Though many states have laws that limit personal injury awards in some special circumstances, few are as expansive as the Tennessee law. For one thing, most limitations apply only in medical malpractice cases, an attempt to avoid having doctors contend with soaring malpractice insurance costs. In Tennessee, the limitations apply to any personal injury case. The law says that while economic awards are unlimited and jurors are allowed to compensate victims as they see fit, limits apply to non-economic awards. Non-economic awards include things like pain and suffering, emotional distress and loss of enjoyment of life, all things that are difficult to quantify. The TCJA says that these non-economic damages should be capped at $750,000.


The problem with this limit, beyond its arbitrary nature, is that it sets such a low value on the life that was harmed or lost due to the actions of another person. In this case, the TCJA means that each family who lost a child is entitled to no more than $750,000 in non-economic damages due to the loss. Is this right? Is it fair? Does the loss of a young child only create $750,000 worth of pain and suffering?


Though the answer depends on the specific facts of the case, the point is that victims should have the opportunity to try and convince a jury that their pain and suffering is in fact worth more than $750,000. Jurors are meant to be free from interference and should be the final authority on what a personal injury claim is worth. Because of the TCJA and laws like it, jurors are not free to decide as they wish, but must instead act within constraints, no matter how egregious the case that they are presiding over.


Though the bus company that employed the driver responsible for the crash has come forward and said it will make payments to the families of the victims of the crash, this only goes so far. The company has specifically indicated that it will pay for the funerals of the children, as well as any counseling, medical bills, travel and other expenses for six months for those who survived the crash. Though this is a good first step and it’s surely welcome news for the families, it isn’t nearly enough to compensate for the loss that these families have suffered. Unfortunately, given the TCJA, it’s questionable whether these families could ever get the kind of financial compensation they deserve.


If you or someone close to you has been injured, contact an experienced personal injury attorney today who can help you receive the compensation to which you may be entitled. Contact Arnold & Smith, PLLC for a free consultation, call at 704-370-2828 or click here for additional resources.


About the Author

Matt Matthew Arnold is a Managing Member of Arnold & Smith, PLLC, where he focuses on the areas of family law, divorce, child custody, child support, alimony and equitable distribution.

Mr. Arnold was raised in Charlotte, where he graduated from Providence Senior High School. He attended Belmont Abbey College, where he graduated cum laude, before attending law school at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill on a full academic scholarship.

A board-certified specialist in the practice of Family Law, Mr. Arnold is admitted to practice in all state courts in North Carolina, in the United States Federal Court for the Western District of North Carolina, in the North Carolina Court of Appeals and Supreme Court, and in the Fourth Circuit United States Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia.

In his free time, Mr. Arnold enjoys golfing and spending time with his wife and three children.





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