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Tort Reform in TN a Solution Without a Problem?

March 23, 2011

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Gov. Bill Haslam's tort reform bill heads to a Tennessee House subcommittee today. Among other provisions, it aims to impose an arbitrary cap of $750,000 on damages a jury can award for pain, suffering, disability, disfigurement and loss of enjoyment of life.

Supporters of HB 1993 and its Senate companion, SB 2001, say the legislaton fixes a flaw in the Tennessee civil justice system that puts the state at a competitive disadvantage for attracting new businesses and jobs. But Phillip Miller, president of the Tennessee Association for Justice, says there is no problem with frivolous lawsuits or "runaway" jury verdicts. According to Miller, the system isn't broken – and doesn't need to be fixed.

"This bill is basically, from my perspective, just another bailout – for business, the insurance industry, health care industry – because their description of there being a need for tort reform in Tennessee is not borne out by any of the facts."

Miller calls it a constitutional issue. He says placing caps on noneconomic and punitive damages, while increasing insurance company profits, will have the effect of taking away Tennesseans' rights.

"What we have here is a bill that, in fact, tricks the system – to benefit special interests, big business, insurance companies and the rest – because the common man gets no benefit from this whatsoever."

Miller notes that annual medical malpractice lawsuit filings have decreased 44 percent since 2008, accounting for only three percent of all civil suits. Physicians insured by Tennessee's largest provider of medical malpractice insurance have seen their premiums drop an average of 23 percent, he adds.

Laura Thornquist, Public News Service - TN