Punitive Damages Under Tennessee State Law

Punitive damages refer to compensation that courts may order defendants to pay if their actions were particularly egregious. Punitive damages do not compensate for the plaintiff’s actual economic or noneconomic damages. The purpose of punitive damages is to punish the defendant, thus discouraging future egregious actions by the defendant and others.

Tennessee courts may award punitive damages on top of compensation for economic and noneconomic damages if the court finds evidence of the defendant acting in one of the following ways:

  • Intentionally: The defendant had a specific goal of causing the injury that the plaintiff endured.
  • Fraudulently: The defendant purposefully misrepresented facts to mislead and causes damage or injury because of an advantage obtained in that manner.
  • Maliciously: The defendant acted out of personal ill will toward the plaintiff
  • Reckless: The defendant knew of but deliberately disregarded an extraordinary risk or danger, resulting in the injury to the plaintiff.

The plaintiff must provide “clear and convincing” proof that the defendant acted in such a manner. As such, relatively few cases in Tennessee courts result in the awarding of punitive damages.

The Tennessee Supreme Court in Hodges v. S.C. Toof & Company, 833 S.W.2d 896 (1992), defined “clear and convincing” proof as “evidence in which there is no serious or substantial doubt about the correctness of the conclusions drawn from the evidence.”

State lawmakers in 2011 passed a tort reform law that capped the amount of punitive damages a jury could award in a civil suit at two times the amount of the compensatory verdict or $500,000, whichever is highest. (TN Code 29-39-104)

In cases where the plaintiff is seeking punitive damages, the jury will determine if the plaintiff will receive compensatory damages and will then determine if the defendant acted in a manner that would warrant punitive damages – i.e., whether the defendant acted intentionally, fraudulently, maliciously, or recklessly. If the jury finds the defendant did act in such a manner, another hearing will commence where the jury determines the amount of punitive damages the defendant must pay.

The jury must consider the following when determining the amount of punitive damages:

  • The defendant’s net worth and general financial circumstances
  • The nature of the action that caused the damage or injury
  • The relationship between the plaintiff and defendant and the impact of the misconduct on the plaintiff
  • Whether the defendant tried to conceal his or her wrongdoing
  • Expenses the plaintiff has incurred when seeking a legal remedy to the damages
  • Whether the defendant profited from his or her misconduct.

If you have been injured in a Knoxville accident, contact the Law Offices of Ogle, Elrod and Baril, PLLC. We will help you explore the compensation to which you may be entitled and help you get the money you deserve. Call 865-546-1111 to schedule a free consultation.