My colleague Justin Hight and I spent our day yesterday at the legislature doing what we do best – fighting for our fellow Tennesseans. As board members of the Tennessee Trial Lawyers Association, we and other TTLA members met with numerous legislators to voice our concerns about a recently filed bill which proposes to change our State Constitution. Here’s why it’s important.
In 2012, a law was passed that limits the amount you can recover in a jury trial. Other than your economic damages, like medical bills, the maximum amount you can receive is $750,000 under the current law for things like pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life. For example, if your child is killed in a car wreck that is another person’s fault, the most you can recover is $750,000. I have a client who as of today has not walked in over a year after a negligent driver crushed her between two cars. She may never walk again. The loss of the use of her legs – not more than $750,000. Would you exchange your legs, or worse your life, for $750,000? Of course not. It’s not fair.
Our Constitution guarantees the right to trial by jury. Any verdict rendered in Tennessee must be unanimously decided by 12 of your peers. Most of the time, juries get it right. You rarely see a runaway jury who gives more than what is fair. Jurors understand the importance of the job placed upon them.
Right now, the Tennessee Supreme Court is considering whether the current law is unconstitutional. In the near future, its decision will be released, and we are cautiously optimistic the Supreme Court will get it right – the law is not constitutional. It’s not fair for Tennesseans. In anticipation that the decision may not go their way, two weeks ago, the Speaker of the House and the Speaker of the Senate, certainly with a push from big businesses and large insurance companies, filed a proposed bill to amend the constitutional provision guaranteeing the right to trial by jury to add a sentence that the legislature can limit the jury’s power. That is, they can limit the amount a jury can award. This is a way to circumvent any ruling by the Supreme Court that the current law is unconstitutional by making it part of the Constitution. Certainly doesn’t seem like what our forefathers intended when they came up with the ideas of separation of powers and checks and balances.
In the majority of cases, this law will not matter. But for those who suffer the greatest losses, the worst of the worst injuries, it will be devastating. And it may come back to hurt all of us. A person who does recover enough money to take care of their future medical needs could end up needing public assistance or healthcare that increases our premiums and taxes.
The constitutional amendment process takes a few years. If it makes it far enough, the last step to amend the Constitution will be a vote of the people. Let us pray it never makes it that far. We’ve got some really great representatives and senators on the hill who will be our first line of defense against this amendment. I pray for all of us that they are able to stop it.
-Attorney Ali Toll