Once again, Republican lawmakers are seeking “tort reform” measures that would act to benefit corporations and harm those injured by corporate negligence.
Republican Bill Haslam has proposed a bill that would not only amend but effectively gut Tennessee’s Consumer Protection Act. The bill would amend the present law as follows:
– Place a limit on noneconomic damages, or pain and suffering, to $750,000 per plaintiff with an amendment excepting severe spinal cord injuries, paralysis, amputation, substantial burns, and the death of a parent with minor children, where the limits would be raised to $1.5 million.
– Place a limit on punitive damages to the greater of twice the compensatory damages awarded, or $500,000.
– An amendment would place no limit on noneconomic damages if the defendant committed an act considered a felony, or the actor was under the influence of drugs or alcohol when the act was committed.
Even with the amendments, Tennessee’s new law would be comparable to Mississippi’s, the only state that has such broad limits on noneconomic damages. While most states limit noneconomic damages in medical malpractice actions, Tennessee would join Mississippi in limiting other types of injury actions.
The bill’s proponents are setting out the usual arguments that unreasonably high jury verdicts are discouraging businesses and industries from investing or locating in Tennessee, and that tort reform would generate thousands of jobs and add billions to the state’s economy over a 10-year period.
Surprisingly, one of the bill’s detractors is former Senator Fred Thompson, who cited horror stories of corporate wrongdoing that left victims permanently disabled and without the financial means to care for themselves or to recover for the devastation to their lives.
Democrats and others confronting such drastic reforms to a tort system whose influence, they contend, in contributing to the economic downturn and high cost of health care has been greatly exaggerated, will have to take up the public relations banner to save the system, or hope that the electorate wakes up to the changes they feel are not in their best interests.