Tennessee approves noneconomic medical liability damages cap

Meanwhile, other states continue to face court challenges on award limits.

By Alicia Gallegos — Posted June 27, 2011

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Tennessee is the latest state to enact a law setting limits on noneconomic damages in lawsuits, including medical liability cases.

The law, signed by Gov. Bill Haslam on June 16, imposes a cap of $750,000 on medical liability awards. In certain cases deemed to involve serious injury, the limit rises to $1 million.

The damages cap builds on other successful tort reform measures passed in the state in 2008, said Michael Minch, MD, president of the Tennessee Medical Assn. This includes a certification process designed to eliminate lawsuits without merit.

"The bills we promoted and passed in 2008 went a long way toward helping reduce the number of lawsuits in medical cases. We believe this new law will help businesses and the economy in Tennessee in the same way it has helped improve our medical environment throughout the state," Dr. Minch said.

Meanwhile, other states continue to face legal battles challenging the constitutionality of their damages caps.

In Florida, an appellate court on May 27 upheld the state's $500,000 noneconomic damages cap as constitutional. However, the court allowed the plaintiff's motion to certify questions about the law's constitutionality to the Florida Supreme Court. This means the high court ultimately will decide if the cap stays in place.

The case is the first serious court challenge to the cap since it was enacted in 2003, said Jeffery Scott, general counsel for the Florida Medical Assn. The lawsuit stems from a woman who died after giving birth in 2006. Her family alleged that a doctor and nurse breached the standard of care when treating the woman, leading to her death. The family was awarded $2 million in noneconomic damages, but the award was reduced based on the statutory limit.

Scott said the medical association initially fought for a lower damages cap in 2003, but that the $500,000 cap still has proved a significant victory for doctors. "It has provided a measure of certainty, and we would like to see it stay," he said.

At this article's deadline, a date had not been set for the Florida Supreme Court's review of the case.

The Mississippi Supreme Court heard oral arguments on June 14 in a case challenging limits on lawsuit awards. Although the case involves an automobile accident, medical association officials said the ruling could impact the state's $500,000 medical liability cap. At this article's deadline, no decision had been issued.

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