Tennessee General Assembly Fixes One Small Problem With The Tort Reform Legislation

Well, it ain’t much, but the Tennessee Legislature has fixed one small problem with the tort reform legislation that impacts all tort cases arising on or after October 1, 2011.

The original legislation included a provision that required all future damages to be broken down "on an annual basis"  for future medical bills, lost earning capacity, and non-economic damages. Tennessee Code Annotated, Section 29-39-103(a)(2),   This was a disaster waiting to happen.  Why?

Here is an example.  Assume a 20 year old unmarried woman is severely brain damaged as a result of an incident.  She will never work again and she has a significant future medical expenses over her lifetime.  Her life expectancy is disputed – the defense says she has a fifteen year life expectancy and the plaintiff’s expert says she has a normal (sixty year) life expectancy.  There is also a dispute over the inflation rate and the discount rate.

Under the original version of the law, the jury would have up to 240 separate lines  to complete on future damages – 80 entries on lost earning capacity, 80 lines for future medical bills, 80 lines for non-economic damages.  This is not only an unnecessary hassle for the jury, but it also creates lots of opportunities for error.

If she had been married at the time of the incident, another 80 lines would be required for future loss of consortium.

The new legislation – State of Tennessee Public Chapter 379 –  eliminates the words "on an annual basis."  Thus, the jury still must still break out past and future damages by class, and if life expectancy is disputed it must still determine the plaintiff’s life expectancy, but it need not determine each class of damages on a year-by-year basis.

The change in the law became effective on the date it was signed by the Governor.  (May 14, 2013)

The Tennessee Judicial Conference gets the credit for getting the General Assembly to make this important change in the law.  A crazy law just got a little less crazy. 

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