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Are limits on monetary judgments too restrictive?

Staff Report • Nov 7, 2012 at 8:16 AM

As Press staff writer Becky Campbell reported recently, the Washington County Board of Education has written a check for $700,000 to the Circuit Court Clerk so that a judge might determine how it will be distributed among 39 students on a school bus that crashed and rolled Sept. 20.

The check was filed along with a court document asking the judge to determine which victims are eligible to receive a share of the money. The board’s action is in accordance with a state law that grants governmental agencies a $700,000 liability cap for injury or death of everyone involved in a single incident.

Five lawsuits have been filed against the Washington County by attorney Tony Seaton of Johnson City. His office repre resents 12 students who were on the bus when it crashed.

Seaton told Campbell the lawsuits allege “general negligence against the county because of the injuries” to his clients.

The bus driver, Brenda K. Gray, 54, Jonesborough, is charged with eight counts of reckless aggravated assault, 31 counts of felony reckless endangerment, speeding, reckless driving and failure to exercise due care.

The state General Assembly has passed a number of laws in recent years to limit the amount of damages that can be awarded to plaintiffs in civil lawsuits in Tennessee. Gov. Bill Haslam was successful last year in pushing for passage of a new law to reduce the liability exposure of businesses in civil lawsuits. That law caps, with a few exceptions, non-economic damages at $750,000 and punitive damages at $500,000. As noted earlier, state law limits damages to be paid out by government to $700,000 for a sing le accident. “This is tort reform,” Seaton said last month. “The max amount the county would have to pay out is $700,000. So if (she) had rolled this bus twice and killed these kids, we’d be looking at these parents and saying your child is worth $16,000.” We want to hear from you. Are limits on monetary judgments in civil lawsuits too restrictive in Tennessee?

Send your comments to Mailbag, P.O. Box 1717, Johnson City, TN 37605-1717, or mailbag@johnsoncitypress.com  . Please include your name, telephone number and address for verification purposes. We will print your comments on the Editorial and Commentary pages in the coming weeks.

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