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Wednesday, June 02, 2021

New Health Care Liability Action Opinion: Tennessee Supreme Court Holds That Cap on Noneconomic Damages Applies to Claims of Injured Spouse and Derivative Loss-of-consortium Claim in the Aggregate

The Tennessee Supreme Court released its decision today in Yebuah v. Center for Urological Treatment, PLC, No. M2018-01652-SC-R11-CV (Tenn. June 2, 2021).  The syllabus from the slip opinion reads:

This is a healthcare liability action involving the application of the statutory cap on noneconomic damages to loss of consortium claims. The issue before the Court is whether the statutory cap on noneconomic damages applies separately to a spouse’s loss of consortium claim pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated section 29-39-102, thus allowing each plaintiff to receive an award of up to $750,000 in noneconomic damages. Here, the surgery patient filed suit for noneconomic damages resulting from the defendant physicians’ negligence, namely that a portion of a Gelport device was unintentionally left in her body after surgery. In the same suit, the patient’s spouse claimed damages for loss of consortium. The jury awarded the patient $4,000,000 in damages for pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life. The jury also awarded her husband $500,000 in damages for loss of consortium. The trial court initially applied the statutory cap on noneconomic damages by entering a judgment in favor of both plaintiffs collectively for a total judgment of $750,000. However, the trial court subsequently granted the plaintiffs’ motion to alter or amend and applied the statutory cap to each plaintiff separately, thereby entering a judgment of $750,000 for the patient and $500,000 for her husband. The Court of Appeals affirmed. We hold that the language of Tennessee Code Annotated section 29-39-102 allows both plaintiffs to recover only $750,000 in the aggregate for noneconomic damages. We therefore reverse the holding of the Court of Appeals and the trial court.

Here is a link to the majority opinion: 

https://www.tncourts.gov/sites/default/files/yebuahcynthia.opn_.pdf.

Justices Lee, joined by Justice Clark, dissented; here is that opinion:

https://www.tncourts.gov/sites/default/files/yebuahcynthia.sep_.opn_.pdf.

NOTE: This decision is yet another result of the tort reform pushed by ALEC et al. that treats the citizens of Tennessee unfairly