A Hamilton County Circuit Court Judge has declared Tennessee's cap on non-economic damages unconstitutional under the due process, equal protection and "right to jury trial" provisions of the Tennessee Constitution. Download Clark V. Cain The court did not address challenges based on the United States Constitution. The cap applies to personal injury and wrongful death cases and was enacted as part of the Tennessee Civil Justice Act of 2011. The cap on non-economic damages, and cap on punitive damages, which was enacted at the same time, have been the subject of numerous attempted constitutional challenges since their enactment. The punitive damages cap was not addressed in the court's opinion. The Clark opinion is certainly not the last word on the constitutionality of the "tort caps" as the issue will eventually be decided on appeal, if not in Clark, in another case in which the issue is raised.
Under the cap statute, Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-39-102, non-economic damages are broadly defined to include pain and suffering, physical impairment, mental anguish, emotional distress, loss of enjoyment of life and loss of consortium. The $750,000 cap provision applies per claimant, and is not increased if a claim is brought against multiple defendants. Nor is the cap increased for derivative claims brought by a spouse, or child, for loss of consortium or other noneconomic damages. There are exceptions, which increase the cap to $1,000,000 per plaintiff, in cases where the injured party sustains a catastrophic injury such as paraplegia, multiple amputations, severe burns, or the claim involves the wrongful death of a parent of one or more minor children.
The cap does not apply to economic damages such as medical expenses, lost earning capacity, property damage, loss of business or employment opportunities or other objectively verifiable monetary losses. The cap is also removed when the injury is intentional; where the defendant intentionally conceals or destroys evidence; for injuries resulting from the defendant’s intoxication or if the defendant is convicted of a felony for the actions which caused the injury.