§23.20 Statutory Cap and Comparative Fault
The Case: Monypeny v. Kheiv, No. W2014-00656-COA-R3-CV, 2015 WL 1541333 (Tenn. Ct. App. April 1, 2015).
The Basic Facts: Plaintiffs filed suit following a car accident, and the jury found for plaintiffs but attributed 15% of the fault to plaintiffs. The trial court first reduced the non-economic damages from $1,050,000 by 15% to $892,500, then applied the damages cap found in Tenn. Code Annotated 29-30-102 to reduce the amount to $750,000. Defendants appealed this process, arguing that the cap should be applied first and then the $750,000 amount reduced by the 15% fault finding.
The Bottom Line:
“Although the statute governing the award of damages in civil actions, i.e., Tennessee Code Annotated Section 29-39-102, does not specifically address the question of whether comparative fault reductions should precede the application of the statutory cap, the statute does state that ‘[t]he limitation on the amount of noneconomic damages ... shall not be disclosed to the jury, but shall be applied by the court to any award of noneconomic damages.’ Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-39-102(g). In other words, the jury should make its award as if the statutory cap does not exist, and the jury’s award should be based only on its determination of the allocation of fault in the case and its determination of the type and amount of damages.” 2015 WL 154133, at *24.
“To apply the statutory cap before reducing the award by the percentage of fault – as State Farm proposes – would undermine the autonomy of the jury and its role in the trial.” Id.
“Although Tennessee has not yet had the opportunity to specifically address this question in the context of a personal injury case, other jurisdictions that have addressed the interaction between a damages cap and principles of comparative fault have almost unanimously held that any reduction or allocation based on comparative fault must be done before applying the statutory cap where a plaintiff’s damages are subject to reduction based on his or her comparative fault.” Id. at 25.
“We adopt the reasoning in the foregoing cases, which represent the holdings of the majority of jurisdiction that have specifically addressed this question. Accordingly, we hold, as a matter of law, that, in personal injury cases, the trial court should first reduce the jury’s award of non-economic damages by the percentage of comparative fault, and then, if the adjusted award is still above the statutory cap, the court should reduce the award further to comport with the cap.” Id. at *26.