Just What is Tennessee Center for Policy Research Selling? A Bridge in Brooklyn?

Brooklyn BridgeDaniel Clayton, an attorney with Kinnard Clayton & Beveridge in Nashville and a past president of the Tennessee Association for Justice, calls out Justin Owen of the Tennessee Center for Policy Research, for a misleading op-ed in which he asserts that caps on damages in civil lawsuits are a good idea.

Justin Owen of the “Tennessee Center for Policy Research” wrote an op-ed that appeared in The Tennessean, “Tennessee needs more jobs, not more lawsuits,” Feb. 28, which was, at best, misleading. As the past president of the Tennessee Association for Justice, I have been asked to address some of the assertions of Mr. Owen.

Mr. Owen wrote that a $19 million judgment last year in Putnam County represents “a growing trend” in our civil justice system. Are more lawsuits and higher awards occurring in Tennessee?

No. The number of lawsuits filed in Tennessee last year was lower than any year over the past five years. A decade ago, over 1,000 lawsuits were tried per year, compared to 384 last year. The number of verdicts over $1 million has remained virtually unchanged the past five years. The Putnam County case involved a Tennessean who is now a quadriplegic and in a long-term facility due to a negligent defendant. Mr. Owen failed to mention that only $101,000 of the judgment was collected.

Mr. Owen stated that “a staggering 47 counties do not have an emergency room physician.” Are 47 counties in Tennessee without emergency room coverage?

No. The truth is there are 15, not 47, counties in Tennessee that do not have emergency rooms. Is that because of lawsuits? No. These are rural counties that do not have hospitals and likely never will. However, the other 80 counties have hospitals with emergency rooms, overseen by a physician, providing 24/7 emergency room care.

Mr. Owen claims that if Tennessee places caps on jury verdicts like Texas did several years ago, some of the counties that presently do not have OBGYNs will have OBGYNs. What happened in Texas?

Prior to passing caps, Texas had 152 counties that did not have OBGYN coverage. Since passing caps, Texas still has 152 counties that do not have OBGYN coverage.
Awards are reasonable

What is the truth about medical malpractice filings?

In 2008, the Tennessee Association for Justice worked with Sens. Mark Norris (R) and Doug Overbey (R) as well as the Tennessee Hospital Association and the Tennessee Medical Association to find a solution that would reduce the number of lawsuits being filed against Tennessee health-care providers while still holding negligent health-care providers accountable for the harms caused by malpractice. Since 2008, malpractice lawsuits have decreased by 44 percent and Tennessee physicians insured by SVMIC have seen premiums drop an average of 23 percent, according to the Medical Liability Monitor. An internist insured by SVMIC pays on average only $7,076 per year for malpractice coverage — an amount lower than the average premiums charged in 42 other states.

Do Tennesseans award “jackpot justice” and judgments in frivolous lawsuits?

No. Tennessee juries have been proven to be reasonable and trustworthy. All 12 members of a Tennessee jury must agree on the amount of the verdict. Some of the other states that have experienced problems with its civil justice system do not require a unanimous verdict. For over 200 years, Tennesseans have been trusted at the ballot box. Tennesseans are trusted in matters of life and death in criminal cases.

Unlike Mr. Owen, I believe Tennesseans, not the government, should be trusted to determine the full extent of accountability for harms and losses resulting from a negligent defendant’s conduct.

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