§15.24 Modification by Trial Judge of Fault Percentages Assigned by Jury

The Case: Turner v. Jordan, 957 S.W.2d 815 (Tenn. 1997).

The Basic Facts: Plaintiff, a nurse at a hospital, was attacked by a mentally ill patient. Plaintiff brought a medical malpractice suit against the mentally ill patient's physician, alleging the doctor failed to use reasonable care in treating the patient. After a post-trial motion, the trial judge adjusted the fault percentages determined by the jury.

The Bottom Line:

  • "The plaintiffs argued that the trial court had the authority to reallocate the percentage of fault instead of granting a new trial, in the same manner as it can suggest an additur or remittitur. The defendant maintains that a new trial was the only appropriate remedy because allocation of fault lies within the exclusive province of the jury." 957 S.W.2d at 823.
  • "In Tennessee, our cases have specifically limited the statutory procedures of remittitur and additur to correction of damages and not liability. See, e.g., Burlison v. Rose, 701 S.W.2d 609 (Tenn. 1985) (remittitur is not proper, and a new trial must be granted, when the trial judge disagrees with the jury on questions of fact other than the amount of damages); Spence v. Allstate Ins. Co., 883 S.W.2d 586, 594 (Tenn. 1994) (suggestion for additur applies to damages). Thus, the trial court correctly determined that it lacked the authority to reapportion the comparative fault in its role as thirteenth juror.FN10
    FN10 Our holding does not preclude the trial court from reallocating comparative fault pursuant to an appropriate motion to alter or amend following a bench trial. Tenn. R. Civ. P. 59.02."
    Id . at 824.

Other Sources of Note: Jones v. Idles , 114 S.W.3d 911, 914-15 (Tenn. 2003) (applying Turner and holding that "where a trial court acting as the thirteenth juror finds that the jury's allocation of fault is unsupported by the weight of the evidence, the only remedy is the granting of a new trial. The trial court may not reallocate the percentages of fault between the parties either in whole or in part.").

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The foregoing is an excerpt from Day on Torts: Leading Cases in Tennessee Tort Law, published by John A. Day, Civil Trial Specialist, Fellow in the American College of Trial Lawyers, recipient of Best Lawyers in America recognition, Martindale-Hubbell AV® Preeminent™ rated attorney, and Top 100 Tennessee Mid-South Super Lawyers designee. Read John’s full bio here.

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