What is a “Blue Chipper?”

More than two decades ago I enrolled in an Antitrust Law course at the University of North Carolina School of Law, under the mistaken impression that it was the sequel to the Domestic Relations Law course I had taken a semester earlier. I quickly realized my error, but elected to stay the course and learn a little business law.

The Professor was Bill Aycock, former Professor of the School of Law and former Chancellor of the University. He is a wonderful man and a fine teacher, the kind of gentleman who undoubtedly makes a perfect grandfather.

Professor Aycock identified certain cases that he called the “Blue Chippers” of antitrust law, a concept taken from the notion of “blue chip” stocks. (You remember “blue chip” stocks – a phrase developed back when accountants were more like Robert Caro and less like John Grisham.)

Professor Aycock thought it was important for those lawyers practicing in the field of antitrust law to know the names and core holdings of the leading cases. Ready knowledge of these decisions, he believed, would allow practitioners and judges to communicate in legal shorthand about fundamental points of the topic.

To that end, we were required to memorize the case names and core holdings of what he identified as the 100 (or something like that) most important cases in antitrust law. The final exam included a list of the cases and a list of the holdings, which we attempted to correctly match ala third grade.

Well, I elected not to pursue antitrust law as a career, turning instead to have a long-running love affair with the law of torts. Upon reflection, it seems to me that Professor Aycock hit upon a great idea: Tennessee tort law deserves its own list of “blue chippers.”

What criteria are considered for inclusion on the list, you ask? Given the relatively few number of tort cases decided by the Tennessee Supreme Court, how can any decision be excluded?

The answer is this: the cases selected to be “blue chippers” are cases that either fundamentally changed law in Tennessee or represent the leading case concerning that tort law concept. The list changes from time to time with changes in the law.

What is the most important case in the history of tort law in Tennessee? Virtually every tort lawyer will tell you that it is Jordan v. Baptist Three Rivers Hospital, 948 S.W.2d 593 (Tenn. 1999). This decision, written by Hon. Janice Holder, re-interpreted Tennessee’s wrongful death statute to permit recovery of damages for loss of love, society, affection, guidance and, in the event of the death of a spouse, consortium. Tennessee’s former interpretation of the statute was not inconsistent with the language of the statute but wrong. The decision not only increased the value of almost every wrongful death case in the state but, more importantly, recognized that the value of a human being is more than his or her ability to work and save money.

More blue chippers to follow!