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Tennessee Medical Malpractice Legislation

The Tennessee legislature approved comprehensive medical malpractice tort reform last month.  While the legislation is designed to curb frivolous lawsuits and promote job growth by removing the fear of litigation and insurance costs, the tort reform legislation merely kowtows to pro-business advocates at the expense of the victims of negligence and tortious wrongdoing and their families.  By capping damages for medical malpractice and other negligent conduct, the legislation removes accountability from the medical profession and limits the rights of victims of medical malpractice to obtain adequate compensation as determined by a jury of their peers.

Among other things, the tort reform legislation:

  • Limits non-economic damages, such as pain and suffering, to $750,000 in most cases;

  • Limits non-economic damages to $1 million for cases in which the  plaintiff becomes a paraplegic or quadriplegic because of spinal cord injury, sustains third degree burns over 40% or more of his or her body or face,  or has a hand or foot amputated;

  • Requires that punitive damages be proven by clear and convincing evidence;

  • Caps punitive damages to two times compensatory damage or $500,000, whichever is greater, unless the defendant intended to injure the plaintiff, was under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or intentionally falsified records to avoid liability;

  • Prohibits punitive damages in products liability actions, unless the seller had substantial control over the design or manufacturing of the defective product or had actual knowledge of the defect in the product at the time it was sold.

There is no cap on the amount of economic damages that can be recovered.  The Tennessee House of Representatives reluctantly agreed to approve the legislation even though the Senate deleted a provision that would have excluded convicted felons from protection against unlimited non-economic damages.

As Tennessee Sen. Eric Stewart said in a statement, the legislative reforms “put a price on the life of the weak, the paralyzed, the neglected — all under the guise of economic development.”

If approved by Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam, as is expected, the bill would take effect October 1, 2011.

Steinberg Goodman & Kalish  ( is dedicated to protecting victims and their families.  We handle medical malpractice, product liability, personal injury, wrongful death, auto accidents, professional negligence, birth trauma, and railroad law matters. Contact us at (800) 784-0150 or (312) 782-1386.

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