The state House on Monday approved Republican Gov. Bill Haslam’s measure to place limits on payouts from successful lawsuits in Tennessee.
The chamber voted 72-24 to pass the bill carried by Republican Rep. Vance Dennis of Savannah that would place a $750,000 cap on non-economic damages such as pain and suffering.
The bill gained the votes of 63 Republicans and eight Democrats, while 24 Democrats and one independent voted against it. The Senate would have to approve the companion bill before it could head for the governor’s signature.
Supporters cast the bill as a job creation measure. “The purpose of this bill is to create predictability and clarity for businesses small and large,” Dennis said.
Opponents argued that limiting damages in most lawsuits would unfairly target victims.
Republicans defeated several attempts by Democrats to eliminate or raise the caps and to require the state comptroller to study whether the measure delivers on promised job growth if it becomes law.
Democrats questioned the need for the measure given Tennessee’s recent success in drawing multi-billion dollar investments from the likes of Volkswagen, Hemlock Semiconductor and Wacker Chemie.
“How have we been so successful in getting the industries into Tennessee that we have in recent years?” asked Rep. Jimmy Naifeh, D-Covington, who ultimate voted for the measure. “Why is this going to do more than what our business climate that Tennessee now has?”
Dennis responded that changing that law would give recruiters a chance to attract even more businesses.
Democrats also noted that no neighboring state other than Mississippi has placed similar damages on all lawsuits beyond medical malpractice cases.
House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, called the bill a “commonsense measure,” and said he had to convince members of his own caucus and the business and medical communities that the caps should not have been lower.
Rep. Bill Dunn, R-Knoxville, said Democrats concerned about how little money plaintiffs gain from lawsuits should instead consider limiting how much they pay in legal fees.
“You can get more money into the pockets of the injured if you put a cap on how much of the money the trial lawyers make,” Dunn said.
Republican Rep. Mark Pody of Lebanon said his wife recently suffered a brain injury when a tire detached from a truck and struck her car. Since then, he said, lawyers have urged him to pursue litigation against the company that owns the truck, the manufacturer and several others.
“They’re not concerned about my wife, but they sure are concerned about the 30 to 40 percent of the settlement they’re going to get,” Pody said. “I am extremely for this bill.”
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