When people generally think of frivolous lawsuits, their first reference is to a hot cup of coffee at McDonalds. Although the injured woman sustained severe third-degree burns, that case about a hot cup of coffee has been used as a vehicle to try and limit legitimate claims of neglect. There is a recent example of a birth injury case that illustrates just how distorted our national conversation has become on lawsuits.
Within this past year, a Chicago family settled a birth injury case for the staggering sum of fifty three million dollars ($53,000,000) after twelve years of litigation. In this Chicago lawsuit, medical staff at the University of Chicago ignored the child’s mother for hours despite the fact that her child was in severe fetal distress, which meant she needed an emergency c-section. As a result of the staff’s failure, the child was born with severe brain damage. Even twelve years later, the child is unable to walk or speak and will suffer from neurological injuries for the rest of his life. The interesting question is what would have happened had this incident occurred in Tennessee?
In Tennessee, the legislature has tried to turn birth injury cases essentially into a “hot cup of coffee.” In Tennessee, the law has been changed to limit non-economic damages to seven hundred fifty thousand dollars ($750,000), except in certain rare circumstances. This limits the amount a person is entitled to recover for their pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment of life, and mental anguish in personal injury and medical malpractice cases. The law does not affect how much a person can recover for their economic losses. These economic losses would include, but are not limited to, past lost earning capacity, past medical bills, future medical bills, or future lost earning capacity. This limitation applies to someone spilling hot coffee on themselves or a woman in desperate need of a c-section and who ends up with a child with severe brain damage.