Punitive Damages -- 2016

Lindenberg v. Jackson Nat'l Life Ins. Co.   (W.D. Tenn.)

Limiting excessive punitive damages awards

For several decades, legislatures and courts have been placing limits on punitive damages because the availability and size of these awards have expanded significantly. Punitive damages are, by definition, penalties awarded in addition to compensatory damages. Limiting punitive damages ensures that the civil litigation environment is balanced and respects due process. Without a statutory limit on punitive damages, businesses are at a risk of significant and unwarranted liability exposure.

In this case, the Tennessee General Assembly made a policy decision to limit punitive damage awards in ways that properly balance judicial and economic considerations. The statute is in line with punishments typical at common law; is similar to other penalties for comparable wrongdoing; is similar to statues in other states; provides proper safeguards; fosters settlement; and is supported in its constitutionality by nearly all courts to consider the issue.

The NAM and other groups filed an amicus brief on 4/15/16 urging the Tennessee Supreme Court to uphold the statutory limit on excessive punitive damages awards. That information can be found here. Limits prevent unpredictable awards and promote public confidence in the civil justice system while encouraging sound economic policy. Most courts have upheld such limits.

On 6/23/16, however, the Tennessee Supreme Court opted not to decide the constitutionality of the statute and returned the case to the federal district court that had certified the question. The U.S. District Court for the Western District of Tennessee then considered the issue, including our amicus brief, and found on 9/28/16 that the law is consistent with the right to jury trial and separation of powers under the Tennessee Constitution.

Related Documents:
NAM amicus brief  (July 5, 2016)


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