Sweeping tort reform legislation, capping jury awards for injuries and deaths caused by negligence or wrongful actions, went to Gov. Bill Haslam for his signature Friday.
The state House voted 74-24 mostly along party lines for the bill, one of the governor’s few major pieces of legislation in his first year in office. The Senate approved tort reform a week ago.
Haslam sold the bill as good for the economy, saying it would encourage companies to create jobs by making the state’s business environment more predictable.
“Tennessee has many great attributes going for it as we recruit companies interested in relocating to our state or expanding here, but the global competition for jobs continues to grow,” Haslam said. “This legislation removes one of the few advantages surrounding states had and makes our state even more desirable to businesses as we go out and sell Tennessee as the best place in the Southeast to do business.”
In the House, Democrats offered a dozen amendments to raise the lawsuit caps or otherwise soften the bill. They all were defeated. Rep. Mike Stewart, D-Nashville, argued tort reform is unnecessary to improve the state’s business climate.
“The problem is that there are numerous independent entities that rank business climate. And every one of them says that Tennessee under the Bredesen administration has created an outstanding business climate with no tort reform,” Stewart said.
The bill puts no limits on compensatory damages in lawsuits, including medical expenses and loss of pay or earning capacity. But it places 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 cap is $1 million for certain catastrophic cases — spinal cord injuries, amputations, severe burns and the death of a parent leaving young children.
The proposal also limits punitive damages, which are intended to punish wrongdoers, to twice the amount of compensatory damages or $500,000, whichever is greater.