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Articles Posted in Damages – Personal Injury

When an injured plaintiff’s spouse asserts a loss of consortium claim, the noneconomic damages cap found in Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-39-102 “allows both plaintiffs to recover only $750,000 in the aggregate for noneconomic damages.” In Yebuah v. Center for Urological Treatment, PLC, No. M2018-01652-SC-R11-CV (Tenn. June 2, 2021), plaintiffs filed an HCLA claim after plaintiff wife’s surgeon left a medical device in her abdominal cavity while removing her kidney, causing her pain and chronic inflammation until the device was discovered during an unrelated procedure eight years later. The jury had awarded plaintiff wife $4,000,000 in pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life damages, and awarded $500,000 in damages to plaintiff husband for loss of consortium. The trial court originally ruled that the damages in total would be reduced to $750,000 pursuant to the damages cap, but then amended the ruling and held that the cap should be applied to each plaintiff separately, meaning that the wife would receive $750,000 and husband would receive $500,000. The Court of Appeals affirmed this application of the damages cap.

During this appeal to the Supreme Court, the facts of the case were not at issue. The only issue here was how Tennessee’s cap on noneconomic damages should be applied when the injured plaintiff is seeking noneconomic damages and his or her spouse is also pursuing a loss of consortium claim (but not a claim for personal injuries).

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Where plaintiff’s uninsured motorist insurance policy stated that it covered “all damages” and prejudgment interest was not listed as a specific exception to coverage, the Court of Appeals ruled that the policy language was “sufficiently broad to include prejudgment interest.”

In Lewis v. State Farm, No. W2019-01493-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Nov. 5, 2020), plaintiff was in an accident caused by an unknown driver who left the scene. Plaintiff was driving his brother’s car, and the company insuring the car settled with plaintiff. Plaintiff was also personally insured by defendant State Farm, with uninsured motorist coverage of up to $500,000 per accident.

Plaintiff filed this suit pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. § 56-7-1206. After both settlement negotiations and mediation failed to produce a resolution, the case was tried in front of a jury, and the jury found the unknown motorist 100% at fault, awarding $275,000 in damages to plaintiff. Plaintiff filed a post-trial motion seeking prejudgment interest, which the trial court denied, finding that the insurance policy did not include prejudgment interest. This appeal followed, and the trial court was reversed.

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Where a car accident plaintiff was granted summary judgment as to liability but offered no evidence regarding her medical damages beyond her own testimony, including no expert testimony that any of her medical expenses were reasonable and necessary, the trial court did not err by awarding her only $5,000.

In Marsh v. Lowe, No. E2019-00697-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. April 29, 2020), plaintiff was rear-ended on the interstate, and she filed suit against both the driver and the owner of the car. Plaintiff alleged that the driver was negligent by failing to slow appropriately for traffic, and she specifically pointed out that the driver was cited for DUI and for using a cell phone/ distracted driving by the police. Plaintiff alleged that the car owner was negligent by “entrusting [the driver] to operate the vehicle.”

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The Tennessee Supreme Court yielded to the Legislature’s decision to impose a cap on the amount of money that can be awarded to people harmed by the carelessness of others.  The law was passed in 2011.  The law requires judges to reduce jury awards for human losses (called “noneconomic damages by the legislation) to $750,000 in most cases.

The 3-2 decision was authored by Chief Justice Bivins.  There was one concurring opinion and two dissents.  Click on the links below to read them.

Majority Opinion by C.J. Bivins

Want a primer on the law of compensatory damages in Tennessee?  Then look at Hyde v. South Central Tennessee Development District, No. M2015-02466-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. July 14, 2017), defendant admitted liability for a car accident but challenged the damages awarded to plaintiff by the trial court.

On June 14, 2013, defendant’s employee ran a red light and hit the driver’s side of plaintiff’s car. On the day of the accident, plaintiff was taken to a hospital and “was diagnosed with a strain in her thoracic spine and a contusion to her right leg, and discharged with pain medication.” Two days later plaintiff went to a different hospital complaining of head pain and was diagnosed with a headache. Five days after the accident, plaintiff went to a chiropractor “complaining of muscle spasms in her lumbar spine and aches throughout her body.” Plaintiff treated with the chiropractor from June 19 until October 10. In addition to her treatment with the chiropractor, plaintiff went to her primary care doctor on August 20 and November 20, as well as January 27 of the following year.

Defendant admitted liability and a bench trial was held as to damages. The trial court awarded plaintiff $271,378.95 in compensatory damages, and this appeal followed, with defendant challenging the trial court’s damage calculations.

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Who has the right to recover medical expenses incurred for personal injuries to children in Tennessee?  The parents?  The minor?  Either but not both?  Does it make any difference if there is a holder of a subrogation interest which has a right to assert a claim against either the parents or the minor?

My recent article on the subject appears on PDF Page 38 of a recent edition of the Tennessee Bar Journal.

An excerpt:

In West v. Epiphany Salon & Day Spa, LLC, No. E2016-01860-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. April 25, 2017), the Court of Appeals affirmed a large remittitur in a negligence case, reducing the jury’s award by over 61%.

Plaintiff had gone to defendant salon for a facial treatment in 2012. According to her testimony, her “face began burning upon application of the treatment” and she “rushed home in pain.” She filed this negligence action, alleging that her face never recovered from the treatment.

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In Blackwell v. Sky High Sports Nashville Operations, LLC, No. M2016-00447-COA-R9-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Jan. 9, 2017), the Court of Appeals addressed the issue of whether parents in Tennessee may “bind their minor children to pre-injury waivers of liability, releases, or indemnity agreements,” affirming the existing common law rule such agreements were not enforceable against a child when signed by a parent.  The Court also discussed whether a minor had the right to seek recovery of medical expenses in a personal injury case.

Mother took her son to defendant trampoline park, and on their first visit mother was required to sign a “Customer Release of Liability and Assumption of Risk.” This form purported to waive liability for any injury on behalf of both mother and son, and it contained a choice of law provision naming California law as governing the agreement as well as a forum selection provision stating that litigation would be brought in California. The release stated that it would be effective until the son was eighteen. At a later visit, son was injured, and son and mother both brought this action against defendant trampoline park in the Davidson County Circuit Court.

Defendant filed a motion to enforce the contract in the trial court, arguing that the claims had been waived and that the case had to be brought in California and governed by California law. Mother voluntarily dismissed her claim against defendant, and the trial court subsequently denied defendant’s motion to enforce the contract. The trial court found that “neither the forum selection clause nor the choice of law provision were valid because their enforcement would cause a great hardship for Son to prosecute his action in California and, Tennessee, rather than California, has ‘a more significant relationship to the facts surrounding this case.’” The trial court also held that the liability waiver did not operate to waive son’s claims, as “such a contract is not permissible in Tennessee.” In a lengthy decision, the Court of Appeals ultimately affirmed all three of these holdings.

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In Glasgow v. K-VA-T Food Stores, Inc., No. E2015-01653-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Aug. 31, 2016), the Court of Appeals affirmed a jury award in the full amount of compensatory damages sought by a Tennessee premises liability plaintiff.

While using the restroom in a grocery store, plaintiff lost his balance while standing up. He grabbed the handrail, which pulled out of the wall, causing him to fall and hit his head. Plaintiff presented testimony from himself and a doctor who had treated him both before and after the incident, as well as a deposition from the neurologist he saw after the fall. Plaintiff presented evidence that since the fall, he had experienced migraines and light sensitivity. He testified that this affected his life in several ways. He had to abandon his 14-year career in television production and instead go into radio because of his light sensitivity. Plaintiff asserted that the migraines were “debilitating, requiring him to ‘get out of the light’ and stay in a dark, cool space until the pain subsides.” Plaintiff admitted at trial that he was “not actively seeking treatment from a physician for his migraines and that he currently use[d] over-the-counter medication to treat his condition.”

At trial, the parties stipulated that plaintiff’s medical expenses were $5,310 and that he had a life expectancy of 38.36 years.

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In State Farm Mutual Auto. Ins. Co. v. Blondin, No. M2014-01756-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Mar. 14, 2016), the central issue was whether plaintiff had asserted its claim for personal injury damages in a timely fashion. State Farm was subrogated to its insured’s right to recovery following an accident between the insured and defendant’s daughter. The accident occurred on July 7, 2009, and State Farm filed a civil warrant in general sessions court on May 17, 2010. The warrant stated that State Farm brought the action “to recover damages to the property of plaintiff’s insured, Jenny R. Rone, caused by the negligence of the defendant. The date of loss was July 7, 2009. The amount of damages totaled $7,371.22…”

On July 15, 2010, more than one year after the accident, State Farm filed a motion to amend the warrant to say: “Suit to recover damages to the property and person of plaintiff’s insured…. The amount of damages totaled $24, 999.99…” The general sessions judge denied the motion to amend, writing on the motion that it was “denied as to personal injuries.  Statute of limitations has expired.”

Following the denial of the motion to amend, State Farm filed a motion to remove the case to circuit court, which was also denied. State Farm then voluntarily dismissed the case without prejudice. State Farm refiled in general sessions court within the one-year allowed by the savings statute, but this time the warrant stated that it was “to recover damages to the person and/or property of plaintiff’s insured.” This warrant listed damages at $7,371.22. Defendant moved to dismiss this action based on timeliness, and the general sessions court dismissed the case. State Farm appealed to the circuit court and also filed an Amended Complaint seeking $44,124.57 in damages. Defendant again moved to dismiss, which was denied, and ultimately State Farm got a judgment for $20,575, which was reduced by 20% because the court found the insured to be 20% at fault. Defendant then appealed to the Court of Appeals, which ultimately dismissed the personal injury portion of State Farm’s claim.

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