TN Court Punts Question on Injury Damage Caps

Charlotte Personal Injury Attorney Matthew R. Arnold of Arnold & Smith, PLLC answers the question “What exactly is a wrongful death claim?”


Damage caps in personal injury cases have become an increasingly hot topic in recent years, with courts across the country wrestling with the issue. State high courts have been left to decide whether and when such caps, usually on noneconomic damages or medical malpractice payouts, are appropriate or even constitutional. Some, such as Florida, have decided that such caps are not only unconstitutional, but also completely ineffective. Others, like the recent case in Tennessee, have looked for ways to avoid making such a decision. To find out more about the recent case, keep reading.


Judge Gavel Charlotte Accident attorney Mecklenburg injury lawyerThe case in Tennessee began when Donald Clark and his wife filed suit against AT&T and one of its employees. The personal injury case claimed that AT&T and the employee were negligent and asked that the defendants be ordered to pay the plaintiffs $25 million in non-economic damages. The payout was related to a car accident that left Donald severely injured.


In addition to asking for money from the defendants, the Clarks also asked that the district court declare Tennessee’s caps on non-economic damages in personal injury cases unconstitutional. In Tennessee, the cap is $750,000 in certain personal injury cases, well below the amount that the Clarks believed they were entitled to.


The trial judge in this case surprisingly agreed with the plaintiffs, denying a motion for summary judgment form the defendants. The judge concluded that the state’s law was unconstitutional and, in doing so, allowed the defendants to appeal. The defendants wasted no time and appealed the matter all the way to the Tennessee Supreme Court.


The Supreme Court was asked to resolve the important question of whether the cap on non-economic damages was constitutional or not. Instead, the Court punted the issue, saying that the question was not yet ripe for judicial review. Their reasoning makes perfect sense; currently the case before them does not involve an award in excess of the cap. Given this, there is no current dispute; all issues are purely theoretical at the moment. The Supreme Court decided that the trial court had acted prematurely by deciding what should have remained an open question until such a time as a damages award exceeds the cap.


Critics are hopeful that the current case allows for possibility that the Supreme Court might still strike down the state’s law. Opponents of damage caps argue that they serve solely to protect those who have done tremendous harm to others. In fact, damage caps are specifically designed to protect the most wealthy offenders, often medical providers, hospitals or large companies and insurers, those who have caused substantial harm and yet hide behind damage caps to avoid being forced to take full financial responsibility for their actions. The hope is that the plaintiffs eventually win the case and are awarded damages in excess of the cap. Should that happen, the case would again land before the Supreme Court and this time, they will need to answer the fundamental question concerning the validity of the law.


If you are injured contact an experienced personal injury attorney who can help you receive the compensation to which you may be entitled to.  Feel free to contact the experienced personal injury attorneys at Arnold & Smith, PLLC in Charlotte, North Carolina for a free consultation. Call toll free at (955) 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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