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Tennessee Appellate Court Addresses Application of Non-Economic Damages Cap in Mesothelioma Wrongful Death Case

In a Knoxville personal injury or wrongful death lawsuit, several elements of damages are possible. Some of these are “economic damages,” such as medical costs and lost wages. Others are referred to as “non-economic damages.”

Non-economic damages include such things as compensation for physical and emotional pain and suffering, loss of the ability to enjoy life, and loss of spousal consortium. Depending upon the law of the state in which the accident happened – and sometimes the particular claims upon which the plaintiff rests his or her case – there may be a maximum amount of damages available to the plaintiff, regardless of what his or her case would otherwise be worth.

When damages are capped in a case involving multiple defendants, disputes can arise regarding the amount that each defendant ultimately owes if the jury finds in the plaintiff’s favor. This can even be true in cases in which multiple defendants were sued but only a single defendant remained at the time of the trial.

Facts of the Case

The original plaintiffs in a recent case were a man who allegedly suffered mesothelioma due to exposure to asbestos-containing materials at this workplace and the man’s wife, who joined in the suit to assert a claim for loss of consortium. They sought monetary compensation from several defendants, whom they alleged engaged in the mining, processing, manufacturing, sale, and/or distribution of asbestos, asbestos-containing products, and/or machinery that required or called for the use of asbestos or asbestos-containing products. After the male plaintiff died, the wife amended her complaint to assert a wrongful death action pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated ยง 20-5-106(a).

As the case developed toward trial, the wife settled with several defendants, and the trial court dismissed some of the other defendants on summary judgment. When only one defendant remained, that defendant filed a motion seeking clarification of the trial court’s intentions with regard to the handling of the state’s statutory cap for non-economic damages. The case proceeded to trial and resulted in a verdict in favor of the plaintiff, with comparative fault being allocated among the remaining defendant, some of the dismissed defendants, and the decedent. Dissatisfied with the trial court’s application of the damages cap, the wife appealed.

Decision of the Court

The Court of Appeals of Tennessee at Nashville affirmed the lower court’s ruling. Although the amount of money that the wife received from the settling defendants was not disclosed in the court’s opinion, the jury’s verdict in her favor was substantial: $2,071,216.21, to be exact. The issue before the court revolved around how much of that verdict she would actually receive from the remaining defendant, given that $1,950,000 of the jury’s award was for non-economic damages and a statutory cap applied to such damages. Insomuch as the jury allocated 13% of the fault for the decedent’s death to the remaining defendant, the plaintiff argued that she was entitled to receive 13% of the $1,950,000 awarded by the jury for non-economic damages – an amount that was well within the capped amount.

The defendant argued, and the trial court ultimately held, that the wife was entitled to a different amount, one representing 13% of the statutory damage cap for non-economic damages plus the amount of economic damages awarded to her by the jury.

Contact an Injury Attorney in East Tennessee

If you have lost someone close to you because of another’s negligence, you may have grounds for a wrongful death claim. At the Hartsoe Law Firm, our team of experienced legal professionals are here to help you understand your rights with regard to an east Tennessee wrongful death case. For an appointment to learn more, call us at 865-524-5657 or use the contact form on this website.

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