The goal of consumer protection and consumer protection laws is to protect the rights of hardworking Americans from fraudulent or abusive business practices and/or injuries suffered from a breach or a dangerous product. The Tennessee Consumer Protection Act is just that, a powerful tool for consumers to protect themselves from unscrupulous businesses and bad products that injure, maim and kill.
Now Republican, Bill Haslam, has introduced a new bill to change all that. Tennessee, HB2008, would impose a new and comprehensive set of restrictions on lawsuits for injuries and deaths caused by negligence or wrongful actions. Haslam introduced the bill on February 17, saying that Tennessee should be more “business-friendly”. Former Tennessee Senator, Fred Thompson (Republican), and others have opposed the bill; they have referenced some horrific true stories of people who have been victimized by corporate America’s seemingly callous disregard for human life. This bill will slowly, but steadily dismantle the Tennessee Consumer Protections Act. If passed, it would leave the victims without sufficient legal means to recover their losses. It would exempt ALL insurance claims from the requirements of the Tennessee Consumer Protection Act.
Tort reformers are pushing to pass the bill. In fact, three organizations have been set up to present the false proposition that "lawsuit abuse" and "jackpot justice" is prevailing in Tennessee. They argue that injury lawsuits are deterring business investment and frightening doctors and other health care professionals. One group, Tennesseans for Economic Growth presented lawmakers with an "economic study" stating that the bill would create over 100,000 jobs and $16.2 billion in "additional economic output" in the state over the next 10 years.
Currently, Tennessee and Kentucky have no limitations on noneconomic damages or punitive damages. Thompson said that only Mississippi has a noneconomic damage cap as broad as being proposed for Tennessee. In all other states, these artificial damage caps have applied exclusively to medical malpractice cases; they have not provided blanket immunity to all businesses and industries that would injure, maim and kill its citizens. If introduced, this bill would impose limits on noneconomic damages (pain and suffering) to $750,000 per occurrence. Punitive damages (damages that punish defendants responsible for outrageous conduct) would be limited to the greater of two times the total amount of compensatory damages or $500,000. The amendment would raise the cap to $1.25 million in "instances of a spinal cord injury resulting in paraplegia, hemiplegia, quadriplegia, amputation, substantial burns and the death of a parent leaving minor children,” according to a summary of the proposal. Additionally, the proposed amendment would change the award for non-economic damages from a “per occurrence” to a “per injured plaintiff” basis, and would eliminate any limitation on damages “in instances when the defendant committed an act that would constitute a felony or was under the influence of alcohol or illegal drugs at the time the injury occurred.”
This is a case of the government putting corporate rights ahead of human rights. This is a situation where like taxes, the corporations get the benefits and the individual citizen gets the shaft. A serious injury can happen to anyone, every single one of us is only one serious accident, one serious injury from having the consequences of this type of legislation apply to us. I have been handling personal injury cases, in one way or another, for almost 35 years. Try taking care of a seriously injured loved one, someone who has suffered a traumatic brain injury, serious spinal cord injury, or loss of limb on the damage awards that will be limited to you by this outrageous law. The capped amounts suggested would be gone in five years or less. If you suffer the injury and/or disability in your youth, how will you support yourself? How will your family support you? The corporation that caused your damage; the insurance company that was supposed to insure the risk and took your premium dollars to do so, gets all the breaks and benefits here. Who is left holding the bill for their negligence and insurance contract government handouts? The taxpayers, that’s who! If the person/entity that causes the damage gets a limited/capped award; if the insurance company on the risk gets the same break as the negligent party, the injured party will be forced to go on public assistance and Medicaid.
Senator Thompson believes that a cap on damages is an infringement on a citizens right to full trial by a jury of his/her peers, guaranteed by the Seventh Amendment of the United States Constitution. He said if Tennesseans trust juries to decide life and death in capital punishment cases, then they should be trusted to decide damages as well. I agree with him. There is a reason why the framers created the concept of a separation of powers. There is a reason for the three branches of government – the legislative, the judicial, and the executive. There is a reason that the judicial branch was created as “independent” of the other two branches. That reason was rooted in keeping politics out of our justice system; to assure that each of us received equal justice under the law.
Fred Thompson knows this; keeping the legislative and executive branches out of the business of the judicial branch is a conservative, limited government, virtue. So, why are so many conservative Republicans on the wrong side of this issue? The answer is clear: M-O-N-E-Y! Ask your conservative representative where he/she gets the majority of his/her campaign dollars. You will find that the vast majority are significantly influenced by corporate contributions from potentially dangerous product manufacturers (tobacco and pharmaceutical, for example) and insurance companies.
It is time to contact your elected officials; it is time to stand up for your rights as individual citizens. It is time that “we, the people” tell our elected officials to stop giving all of the breaks and benefits to corporate America on our backs and against our individual rights. If you are healthy, it may not seem important, right now. But, remember, you are only one, sudden, tragic, event from being an accident victim and a victim of this hideously anti-justice, anti-citizen, legislation.
Mark Bello has thirty-three years experience as a trial lawyer and twelve years as an underwriter and situational analyst in the lawsuit funding industry. He is the owner and founder of Lawsuit Financial Corporation which helps provide legal finance cash flow solutions and consulting when necessities of life litigation funding is needed by plaintiffs involved in pending, personal injury litigation. Bello is a Justice Pac member of the American Association for Justice, Sustaining and Justice Pac member of the Michigan Association for Justice, Business Associate of the Florida, Tennessee, and Colorado Associations for Justice, a member of the American Bar Association as well as their ABA Advisory Committee, the State Bar of Michigan and the Injury Board.
Attorney, certified civil mediator, and award-winning author of the Zachary Blake Betrayal Series. Mark Bello is also a member of the State Bar of Michigan, a sustaining member of the Michigan Association for Justice, and a member of the American Association for Justice.