AP interview: Thompson says damages bill not done
Posted: Wednesday, March 30, 2011 8:02 pm
By LUCAS JOHNSON II
NASHVILLE (AP) — A proposed compromise to limit lawsuit damages in Tennessee is a step in the right direction, but there’s still work to be done, former U.S. Sen. Fred Thompson said Tuesday.
Gov. Bill Haslam’s proposal would place a $750,000 limit on non-economic damages like pain and suffering, and punitive damages would be capped at $500,000. There is currently no cap on either.
The administration late last week released changes to the bill that would create a special category for “catastrophic loss.” It would raise the cap for non-economic damages from $750,000 to $1.25 million in cases involving serious spinal cord injuries, severe burns or the death of a parent of minor children.
Thompson, one of the most popular Republicans in Tennessee, was hired by the Tennessee Association for Justice to lobby for the state’s trial lawyers. He told The Associated Press on Tuesday that brain injuries should be included in the list.
“I appreciate the … changes that he (Haslam) made,” Thompson said. “But there are some other things that could be improved upon and one of them is brain injuries. That is a significant omission.“
Haslam, a Republican, told reporters earlier Tuesday that he considers the most recent version of the measure to be complete.
“We’ve had ongoing conversations with a thought that once we finally come forward with a bill that it will be not one that we’re putting up to negotiate, but we’re putting the one up that we think is the right one,” Haslam said. “And we think the final form that it’s in now is a great bill for Tennessee.”
The proposed amendment increases non-economic damages in “instances of a spinal cord injury resulting in paraplegia, hemiplegia, or quadriplegia, amputation, substantial burns and the death of a parent leaving minor children.”
The legislation would also change the awarding of non-economic damages from a “per occurrence” basis to a “per injured plaintiff” basis, as well as eliminate any limitation on such 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.”
Thompson said he doesn’t think the effects of the proposal, which is scheduled to start moving in the House this week, have been thoroughly thought out.
“What I saw here was a rush to make one side of the scales just as good and beneficial and helpful to certain folks as possible, without really thinking that much about what effect it was having on our system of justice,” he said. “So I’ve tried to take some time to explain the other side that I’ve personally seen and dealt with, as a lawyer and as a Republican.”
Thompson, who is also an actor, alluded to the stance of some of his Republican friends, such as Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey of Blountville and House Speaker Beth Harwell of Nashville.
Both Ramsey and Harwell told the AP last week that they consider Thompson a good friend, but intend to stick to the governor’s plan. Ramsey even commented that getting Thompson involved is “not going to change one vote in the General Assembly.”
“Some of my friends think that because they can, they ought to push to the outer-most limits,” Thompson said Tuesday. “I’m hopeful that in quieter moments they’ll consider what’s best for all Tennesseans and not some Tennesseans.”
Read HB2008/SB1522 at: http://www.capitol.tn.gov
Associated Press writer Erik Schelzig contributed to this report.
Published in The Messenger 3.30.11