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Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Tennessee Supreme Court Upholds Cap on Noneconomic Damages

The Tennessee Supreme Court released its opinion in McClay v. Airport Management Services, LLC, No. No. M2019-00511-SC-R23-CV (Tenn. Feb. 26. 2020).  The syllabus from the majority slip opinion reads:
We accepted certification of the following questions of law from the United States District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee regarding the constitutionality of Tennessee’s statutory cap on noneconomic damages, codified at Tennessee Code Annotated section 29-39-102: “(1) Does the noneconomic damages cap in civil cases imposed by Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-39-102 violate a plaintiff’s right to a trial by jury, as guaranteed in Article I, section 6, of the Tennessee Constitution?; (2) Does the noneconomic damages cap in civil cases imposed by Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-39-102 violate Tennessee’s constitutional doctrine of separation of powers between the legislative branch and the judicial branch?; (3) Does the noneconomic damages cap in civil cases imposed by Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-39-102 violate the Tennessee Constitution by discriminating disproportionately against women?” Upon review, we answer each of the District Court’s questions in the negative.
Here is a link to the majority opinion:

Here is Justice Kirby's concurring opinion:

Justices Clark and Lee dissented in separate opinions, which are here:; and

NOTE: This is a very disappointing decision.  I agree with Justices Clark and Lee here.  

Monday, February 24, 2020

New Tennessee Underinsured Motorist Case

The Tennessee Court of Appeals released its opinion today in White v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co., No. W2019-00918-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Feb. 24, 2020).  The syllabus from the slip opinion reads:
Appellants were injured in a car accident and, with the permission of their insurance company, Appellee State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company (“State Farm”), settled with the at-fault driver for his policy limits under his coverage with United Services Automobile Association (“USAA”). To fully recover for their injuries, Appellants notified State Farm of their willingness to settle or submit their underinsured motorist (“UIM”) claim to binding arbitration. After evaluating Appellants’ claim, State Farm informed Appellants that it would not offer a settlement for the UIM claim because it believed they had been fully compensated by the payment from USAA. Appellants, in response, demanded that State Farm elect to either participate in binding arbitration or decline arbitration and preserve its subrogation rights under Tennessee Code Annotated section 56-7-1206 (“the Statute”). Believing that its obligation under the Statute was never triggered, State Farm refused to make an election. Appellants filed an action for declaratory judgment asking the trial court to declare that State Farm failed to comply with the Statute. On competing motions for summary judgment, the trial court granted State Farm’s motion and denied Appellants’ motion. Finding no error, we affirm.
Here is a link to the slip opinion:

NOTE: This opinion points out a few things.  One, it demonstrates the importance of following the plain meaning of a statute.  Two, it offers a good discussion of statutory construction.  And, three, it discusses the Oxford comma, which is a hot topic in legal writing, as is evinced on Twitter a lot.  

Friday, February 14, 2020

Appellate Review of a Jury's Verdict under Tennessee Law

The Tennessee Court of Appeals recently released its opinion in Golden v. Powers, No. E2019-00712-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Feb. 12, 2020).  The syllabus from the opinion reads:
This appeal concerns a jury verdict in a personal injury case. Joanna L. Golden [] was jogging in the dark early one morning when she was struck accidentally by a car driven by Cynthia D. Powers []. Golden and her husband, Douglas K. Rice . . . sued Powers in the Circuit Court for Hawkins County []  asserting various claims including negligence. The matter was tried before a jury. The jury found Golden to be 80% and Powers 20% at fault. Plaintiffs filed a motion for a new trial, which the Trial Court denied. Plaintiffs appeal to this Court arguing that the Trial Court failed to act as thirteenth juror and that the jury’s allocation of fault was unsupported by material evidence. Plaintiffs argue also that the jury was prejudiced against them for their being well-off out-of-towners. We find, first, that the Trial Court independently weighed the evidence and acted properly as thirteenth juror. We find further that the jury’s allocation of fault is supported by material evidence. Finally, Plaintiffs’ claim of jury prejudice is speculative, at best. We affirm the judgment of the Trial Court. 
Here is a link to the slip opinion:

NOTE: This appeal is a good reminder of what goes into the appellate review of a jury's verdict under Tennessee law.  It is worth reading in my humble opinion.