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“Crosswalk Tragedy in Chattanooga Sparks Debate on Tennessee’s Damage Cap”

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“It’s unfair:” Chattanooga man’s crosswalk tragedy sparks debate on Tennessee’s damage cap

By HERE News

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. — A recent tragedy in Chattanooga, Tennessee, has reignited a debate over the state’s cap on non-economic damages in lawsuits. Steve Duncan, a local man, was severely injured while crossing a road on December 12th, 2022, and the damage inflicted on his life and his family is now under scrutiny.

The Incident

Steve was headed to his job at Komatsu on Signal Mountain Boulevard that fateful morning. He had no idea that his life was about to change forever. He was struck by a truck while crossing the road to grab a quick breakfast. Duncan’s ensuing ordeal involved more than 20 surgeries, with more scheduled in the future.

“I go in for surgery again on the 22nd, and if that works okay, I’ve still got one more,” Steve shared with HERE News.

The Aftermath

Steve’s subsequent life has been significantly altered. Before the accident, he provided care for his wife, Doris, who has her own health problems. “I still can’t take care of myself. I’m on oxygen 24/7,” stated Doris. Now, Steve requires assistance from Doris for many routine activities.

The Legal Challenge

McMahan Law Firm represented the Duncans in their lawsuit. They secured the couple $8 million to cover initial medical costs. However, there is a statewide cap on non-economic damages such as compensation for continued suffering or changes in the quality of life. This lawsuit could only award the Duncans $750,000 in non-economic damages due to Tennessee’s damage cap. The Duncans believe that this amount is inadequate given their immense suffering and significant alteration in their life.

“We just think it’s unfair,” Steve said.

The Debate on Damage Cap

McMahan Law Firm’s Jay Kennamer weighed in on the issue, “To say that $750,000 would adequately cover what they’ve had to go through after the decrease in quality of life is totally ridiculous”. Tennessee is one of only eight states with a cap on non-economic damages. Joanne Doroshow from the Center of Justice and Democracy at New York Law School explains, “These are the injures that include things like permanent disability, disfigurement, trauma, loss of the reproductive system… things that are not necessarily lost wages or medical expenses, but quality of life injuries.”

Doroshow stresses the need for specificity in such caps and suggests examining the legal system in the state in a more targeted manner. These caps are mostly beneficial to insurance companies which lobby to reduce potential claims payouts, as Doroshow explains, “These caps have been enacted in a few states around the country, mostly as a result of pressure at some point in time by the insurance industry that wanted to limit the amount paid in claims.”

Steve Duncan’s tragic accident serves as a stark reminder and a catalyst for this ongoing debate about Tennessee’s cap on damages. It remains to be seen how this conversation will shape future legislation and whether it will result in more just outcomes for victims of such incidents.

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