After being injured, perhaps in an accident or by someone’s intentional actions, you can file a civil lawsuit for damages. Depending on the nature of your claims and the damages being sought, you might bump up against caps on your damages.
Caps on damages in injury lawsuits impose limits on how much compensation a plaintiff can be awarded. While economic damages are limited only to your actual expenses, non-economic damages, including those for pain and suffering, may have a maximum limit. Similarly, punitive damages, when available, may be tightly capped. While caps on damages can be restrictive, there are limited exceptions that might allow you to claim greater damages. Certain personal injury claims and wrongful death cases are not bound by caps on damages. Generally, courts enforce caps on damages by simply reducing any excessive awards. Injury claims against the government abide by different statutory caps, and plaintiffs are usually even more limited. Tennessee has damage caps to keep awards of damages manageable and reasonable, although laws surrounding these caps are often challenged.
To schedule a free case review of your injury lawsuit and possible damages, call our Tennessee personal injury lawyers at Howe Law at (844) 876-4357.
Limitations or Caps on Possible Damages in a Tennessee Injury Lawsuit
While you might encounter caps on the damages you want to claim in your injury case, the caps might vary based on what kind of damages you are claiming. Multiple categories of damages may or may not be available in your case, and each category might have a different cap to be aware of.
Caps on Economic Losses
Your economic losses and damages are made up of the monetary expenses related to your injuries. For example, your medical bills, destroyed property, and lost wages from missing work would be counted among your economic damages. Generally, these damages are not bound by any caps and may be as high as necessary.
While economic damages are uncapped, they are not necessarily unlimited. You may only claim economic damages for actual monetary losses. This means if your injuries cost you a total of $10,000, you can only claim up to $10,000 in economic damages. You cannot claim economic damages for expenses you could have incurred or came close to.
Since there is no statutory cap on economic damages, it is important to include every penny you lost in order to maximize your potential compensation. While certain expenses are bigger and harder to miss (e.g., medical bills), other smaller costs might be easier to overlook. For example, you might have to drive a long distance for medical treatment every week, racking up a large gas bill over time. It can be easy to lose track of these smaller expenses, but an attorney can help you account for them.
Caps on Punitive Damages
The laws regarding punitive damages caps can be found under T.C.A. § 29-39-104(a)(5). Punitive damages are rarely awarded, so many plaintiffs never have to concern themselves with punitive damages caps. However, your case might be eligible for punitive damages, and the cap will limit your compensation.
Under the law, punitive damages are limited to twice the total amount of your compensatory damages or $500,000, whichever is more. Your compensatory damages are comprised of your economic and non-economic damages. This means that the more compensatory damages your case is worth, the more punitive damages you might be able to claim. Even if your compensatory damages are relatively minor, you might still claim up to $500,000 in punitive damages, depending on the defendant’s actions.
Punitive damages are so rarely awarded because they are only provided in instances of severe negligence or other limited circumstances. To be awarded these damages, our Knoxville personal injury lawyers must prove by clear and convincing evidence that the defendant caused your injuries maliciously, intentionally, recklessly, or through fraudulent means. If the defendant in your case meant to cause you harm, or their behavior was otherwise shocking, talk to your lawyer about possible punitive damages.
Caps on Non-Economic Damages
Your non-economic damages make up the other half of your overall compensatory damages alongside your economic damages. In general, people who experience significant economic losses tend to also experience significant non-economic injuries. However, this is not always the case, and you might still have great non-economic damages when economic losses are minor.
Damages for non-economic damages are capped at $750,000 unless you experienced a “catastrophic” injury or loss. In that case, the cap is increased to $ 1 million. Exactly what constitutes a catastrophic loss or injury is described in detail below.
Non-economic damages are a rather broad category that may encompass a variety of painful experiences. The category is described in more detail under T.C.A. § 29-39-101(2) and includes, but is not limited to, the following:
- Emotional anguish
- Physical impairments, disabilities, or disfigurement
- Loss of companionship, society, and consortium
- Reputational damage
- Loss of enjoyment of normal activities
Caps on Pain and Suffering
Perhaps one of the most widely cited forms of damages is for pain and suffering. Injured plaintiffs often endure great physical pain from their injuries and suffer from severe psychological and emotional trauma. While these injuries certainly deserve compensation, they are not unlimited.
Pain and suffering are usually calculated as part of your overall non-economic damages. This means that damages for pain and suffering, alongside other non-economic injuries, are capped at $750,000 in most cases and $1 million in cases of catastrophic injuries.
Catastrophic injuries are defined as one of the following:
- Spinal cord injuries causing paralysis
- The loss of 2 hands, 2 feet, or 1 of each
- The wrongful death of a parent, leaving a minor child
- Third-degree burns over at least 40% of the plaintiff’s body or at least 40% of the face
It might not seem fair that damages for pain and suffering are capped. In many cases, plaintiffs must live with residual pain, physical or psychological, for life. If you believe the cap on your damages for pain and suffering is shortchanging you, an attorney can help you argue that the cap should not apply. As discussed below, caps on damages may be lifted under specific circumstances.
When Caps on Damages Are Flexible in Tennessee Injury Cases
Damage caps may be strict, but there are some exceptions that allow plaintiffs to exceed these limitations. Keep in mind that these exceptions tend to be limited, and they often apply to very specific situations. Even so, you should speak to your attorney about the possibility of exceeding the damage caps on your claims.
Under the law, the caps on non-economic damages, including punitive damages, do not apply in certain personal injury or wrongful death cases. Under T.C.A. § 29-39-102(h), your non-economic damages, including those for pain and suffering are not capped under the following circumstances.
First, there is no cap if the defendant had specific intent to cause serious bodily harm and succeeded in causing that harm. Second, there might be no cap on non-economic damages if the defendant tried to evade liability in your case by wrongfully falsifying, destroying, or concealing records of material evidence.
Third, your non-economic damages may be uncapped if the defendant caused injuries or death because they were under the influence of drugs or alcohol. This scenario does not include prescription medicines taken according to a doctor’s orders or over-the-counter medicine taken according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
Finally, there may be no caps on non-economic damages if the defendant’s actions or failure to act leads to them being convicted of a felony, and those same acts or failures to act caused your injuries.
How Do Courts in Tennessee Enforce Caps on Injury Lawsuits?
The tricky thing about dealing with capped damages is when the jury goes to deliberate about your case. While our Tennessee personal injury attorneys can accurately calculate the value of economic damages, the jury generally decides on non-economic and punitive damages. However, jurors are often not informed about caps on damages.
According to T.C.A. § 29-39-102(g), limitations imposed on non-economic damages are not disclosed to the jury. Instead, they are enforced by the courts. This means it is possible for the jury to return with a verdict that awards damages greater than statutory caps would allow. At that point, the court would reduce any excessive damages.
If your case is not bound by caps on damages for any of the reasons described above, the jury’s verdict regarding damages awards should not be reduced. However, that might not stop the defendant from appealing and claiming that the statutory caps on damages should have been applied. This might slow down your award, but an attorney can help you navigate the appeals process.
Caps on Injury Lawsuits Filed Against the Government in Tennessee
While many of the caps on damages discussed previously apply to typical civil injury claims, claims against government entities or organizations follow a different set of rules and procedures. Not only are there separate caps on damages in claims against the government, but those caps tend to be more restrictive.
Certain caps and limitations are explained under T.C.A. § 9-8-307(d). under this law, if you sue the state government, it may not be held liable for any punitive damages. Even if punitive damages would otherwise be warranted, they cannot be awarded in a claim against the State of Tennessee. The state may only be held liable for actual or compensatory damages, including economic and non-economic injuries.
According to T.C.A. § 9-8-307(e), in actions against the government arising out of tort, including personal injuries, the government may only be held liable for a maximum of $300,000 per claimant and $1 million for the entire occurrence. This cap includes all compensatory damages, including economic and non-economic. This means your total damages for the money you lost, pain and suffering, and other damages may be no higher than $300,000.
The law allows the government and government entities to purchase insurance for any class of claim. In that case, your recovery may exceed the above-mentioned limits but only up to the limits of the policy. For example, while the state statutes impose a limit of $300,000 on damages, there might be an insurance policy covering your claims with a maximum limit of $500,000. In that case, your damages could be up to the policy maximum even if it exceeds the statutory maximum.
Why Does Tennessee Place Caps on Injury Lawsuits?
Plaintiffs sometimes bemoan the restrictive caps on damages. Many argue that the damages award decided by the jury is the true value of their claims, and statutory caps unfairly reduce that value. While there is certainly some merit to this argument, the state does have some valid concerns about damages being overly excessive.
First, caps on damages keep damages awards more manageable. When awards are very large, defendants might be unable to pay, and plaintiffs might not see the compensation they were awarded. For example, suppose the jury awarded you several million dollars in damages related to pain and suffering. In that case, the defendant might be unable to pay, declare bankruptcy, and you might never receive that compensation.
Second, courts use caps on damages to prevent juries from awarding excessive damages. It is not unusual for juries to make decisions with their hearts rather than their heads. When a case is especially disturbing or emotionally charged, the jury might try to punish the defendant by awarding a very high damages award. While punitive damages are indeed meant to serve as a punishment for the defendant, the punishment cannot be crazy.
Call Our Tennessee Personal Injury Lawyers About Your Potential Lawsuit
To schedule a free case review of your injury lawsuit and possible damages, call our Nashville personal injury lawyers at Howe Law at (844) 876-4357.