Wednesday, September 29, 2010

An interesting case from the Tennessee Supreme Court. In the Tennessee medical malpractice statute, plaintiffs are prohibited from telling the jury how much they are asking for. This prohibition is usually interpreted as forbidding the plaintiff even from stating in the Complaint's (the initial lawsuit filing) ad damnum clause the amount sought.

Now, the Court has clarified how far this bar goes. Justice Sharon Lee said this:
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.

I've never quite understood why, of all the different kinds of lawsuits, it's only in malpractice cases that we cannot tell the jury what we are asking for. I've always assumed that the strength of the medical lobby is behind this law, which sets apart doctors and hospitals from other kinds of potential wrongdoers.

In any event, this case, for all intents and purposes, allows plaintiffs to tell the jury what they think the case is worth -- just not the specific sum of what was asked for in the complaint. I presume that we can tell the jury what we think the value of the case is even if it's the same as what's in the complaint, as long as we don't tell the jury that the amounts are the same.

It's interesting that the Court seems to validate putting the amount sought in the complaint, which we have previously thought was not allowed. This case is a victory for injured victims of medical negligence.

Here's the full opinion from the Court.

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