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Understanding Tennessee’s Statutory Cap on Noneconomic Damages

If you were hurt in an accident caused by another person’s negligence, you have the right to seek full compensation for your medical bills, lost wages and other resulting expenses, which are known as special or economic damages. You can also sue for the value of pain and suffering and other lasting effects of the accident, known as general or noneconomic damages. However, Tennessee law places a dollar limit on victims’ recoveries for this latter type.

To see how the limit works, it’s necessary to understand the distinction between economic and noneconomic damages in a personal injury case.

  • Economic damages — These types of damages can include medical expenses as well as the cost of therapy, rehabilitation, surgery and transportation costs you incur traveling back and forth to appointments. Generally, these are easy to calculate because they are based on actual cash outlays supported by itemized statements from doctors, hospitals and other healthcare providers.
  • Non-economic damages — In addition to pain and suffering, noneconomic damages may include scarring and disfigurement, mental trauma, emotional distress and loss of enjoyment of life. In addition, the spouse of an accident victim may bring a claim for loss of society and companionship. Unlike economic damages, non-economic damages cannot be calculated by out-of-pocket expenses and instead must be established by expert testimony.

Though they don’t have a price tag, noneconomic damages often make up the greater percentage of a personal injury award, sometimes leading to multimillion-dollar verdicts. Tennessee has placed strictures on that possibility by limiting injury victims to a maximum of $750,000 in noneconomic damages. However, the cap increases to $1 million for “catastrophic” injuries, which are defined as follows:

  • If the injury victim suffers a spinal cord injury that leaves them a quadriplegic or paraplegic.
  • If the injury victim suffers third-degree burns on 40 percent or more of their body.
  • If the injury victim suffers amputation of their hands or feet or of one hand and one foot.
  • If, in a wrongful death case, the deceased victim leaves behind a minor child.
  • If the individual whose negligence caused the accident was intoxicated at the time.

The cap on noneconomic damages applies only to personal injury cases based on accidents occurring after October 1, 2011.

The damages an injured person may be entitled to receive will vary depending on the unique facts in their case. The nature and extent of noneconomic damages awardable are often left to juries, who may be persuaded by a wide range of testimony and other evidence. This is why it’s important to consult with a Tennessee lawyer experienced in personal injury litigation.

The personal injury lawyers at Massengill, Caldwell & Coughlin, P.C. in Bristol offer aggressive representation for Tennessee residents who have suffered injuries in auto crashes and other accidents. Call us at 423-797-6022 or contact us online to schedule your free introductory consultation.