Gov. Bill Haslam’s tort reform legislation cleared its first legislative hurdle Wednesday, winning approval from the House Judiciary Subcommittee by voice vote.
The bill caps jury awards and imposes other new restrictions on lawsuits for injuries and deaths caused by negligence or wrongful actions.
It wouldn’t limit compensatory damages in lawsuits, including medical expenses and loss of pay or earning capacity. But it would place a $750,000 cap on most so-called noneconomic damages — such as physical and emotional pain and suffering, mental anguish, emotional distress, loss of companionship, humiliation and loss of enjoyment of life.
The administration agreed to amend the bill Wednesday to raise the cap to $1 million for certain catastrophic cases — spinal cord injuries, amputations, severe burns and the death of a parent leaving young children. The amendment also lifts the cap for wrongdoers who are committing felonies or who are drunk.
The bill also would limit punitive damages, which are intended to punish wrongdoers, to twice the amount of compensatory damages or $500,000, whichever is greater.
Republicans pushed the proposal through the subcommittee without much discussion. Lawmakers heard from both sides during hearings over the past two weeks. The bill now goes to the full House Judiciary Committee as early as next week. It has yet to advance in the Senate.
Haslam contends tort reform will create jobs by making the state’s business climate more predictable. Businesses backing the bill claim it would add 122,422 jobs and $16 billion in output to the state’s economy over the next decade.
The bill is titled the “Tennessee Civil Justice Act of 2011.” But Mary Mancini of the trial lawyer-funded group Tennessee Citizen Action said, “It should be called the “Miscarriage of Justice Act of 2011. I don’t know how any legislator can look into the eyes of a victim’s family member and tell them how much they think their loved ones’ lives are worth.”
“It’s common knowledge that damage awards act as a deterrent and make large corporations think twice about repeating egregious acts that lead to abuse, neglect and death,” Mancini added. “This bill takes
away the right of victims to have their day in court and the right of juries to hold accountable any responsible parties.”