Tenn. plaintiffs can suggest amount for non-economic damages
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (Legal Newsline) - The Tennessee Supreme Court has remanded a medical malpractice case after holding that state law prohibits a plaintiff from disclosing the amount of damages he or she is requesting in pleadings.
The Court, in its opinion filed Thursday, also holds that Tennessee Code does not preclude the plaintiff from arguing or suggesting monetary amounts for non-economic damages to jurors at trial.
The interlocutory appeal stemmed from a medical malpractice action brought by Amanda J. Elliott against her surgeon, Dr. R. Michael Cobb.
Before trial, Cobb filed a motion requesting that the Madison County Circuit Court prohibit Elliott from disclosing to the jury "the amount (of) damages sought in this case or making any statements concerning the ultimate monetary worth of this action or stating any amount for any element of non-economic damages."
The trial court granted Cobb's motion and entered an order prohibiting Elliott from making "any reference or suggestion at any point in the trial to any specific sum for any element of non-economic damage or the ultimate monetary worth of the action."
The court granted Elliott's application for permission to file an interlocutory appeal on the issue of whether Cobb's motion was correctly granted. The state's Court of Appeals denied Elliott's appeal.
Tennessee's high court, in its opinion, said it granted Elliott's application for appeal to address the issue of whether a section of Tennessee Code, which provides in part that "(i)n a medical malpractice action the pleading filed by the plaintiff may state a demand for a specific sum, but such demand shall not be disclosed to the jury during a trial of the case," prohibits a plaintiff from arguing or suggesting any monetary amounts for non-economic damages or the ultimate monetary worth of the action to the jury in a medical malpractice case.
Justice Sharon G. Lee, who delivered the Court's opinion, wrote that in reviewing the lower court's decision it used the "abuse of discretion" standard. A trial court abuses its discretion by applying an incorrect legal standard, reaching an illogical or unreasonable decision, or basing its decision on a clearly erroneous assessment of the evidence.
The Court said it finds the language in Section 29-26-117 of state code to be "clear" and "unambiguous."
"The statute provides that "(i)n a medical malpractice action the pleading filed by the plaintiff may state a demand for a specific sum, but such demand shall not be disclosed to the jury during a trial of the case; notwithstanding the provisions of § 20-9-302 to the contrary," the Court wrote.
It is clear, the Court said, that "such demand" refers to the "demand for a specific sum" stated by the plaintiff's pleading.
The Court noted that Section 29-26-117 makes no reference to non-economic damages such as pain and suffering. However, another section, 20-9-304, allows plaintiffs to argue the monetary value of a claim for pain and suffering as long as the argument conforms to the evidence or reasonable deduction from the evidence.
Lee wrote that the Court must "assume that whenever the legislature enacts a provision, it is aware of other statutes relating to the same subject matter."
"We do not find sections 29-26-117 and 20-9-304 to be in conflict. Interpreted in accordance with the clear and unambiguous language of each section, the statutory scheme allows a plaintiff to argue or suggest a monetary value to be placed on non-economic damages such as pain and suffering and to make an argument concerning the ultimate monetary worth of his or her action, but precludes either party from disclosing the amount of the ad damnum clause in the plaintiff's complaint," the Court wrote in its conclusion.
To hold otherwise, it said, would be to effectively rewrite the statute, adding an additional provision regarding non-economic damages and unduly expanding the scope of the statute.
From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by e-mail at email@example.com.