Tennessee Medical Malpractice: Statute of Limitations and Award Limits


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Tennessee has several laws on the books that could affect a medical malpractice claim. These laws cover how (and when) such claims must be brought in court, use of expert testimony, and how damages are paid to a successful medical malpractice plaintiff. Read on to learn more.

Time Limits for Filing a Tennessee Medical Malpractice Lawsuit

Tennessee has a rule called the "statute of limitations" that governs how much time an injured person has to bring his or her case to court. In Tennessee, medical malpractice claims must be filed within one year of the date the injury is discovered, but not more than three years after the date the injury actually occurred. An exception exists for injuries involving a foreign object left inside a patient's body during a procedure.

For minors under age 18 and persons "of unsound mind," the time limit falls one year after the minor's eighteenth birthday or the date the individual becomes of sound mind again.

Damage Caps in Tennessee Medical Malpractice Lawsuits

Tennessee, like many states, places a cap on medical malpractice damages even after a plaintiff has been successful in a medical malpractice case. Tennessee limits non-economic damages, which includes compensation for things like pain and suffering or loss of enjoyment of life. The state does not limit economic damages like compensation for medical bills (past and future) or lost wages.

In Tennessee, non-economic damages are capped at $750,000 for all types of medical malpractice, including health care liability actions. The cap applies whether a single act caused the injury or a series of separate acts caused the injury. An exception is made, however, for "catastrophic injuries," in which damages are capped at $1 million. According to Tennessee law, "catastrophic injuries" include:

  • spinal cord injuries resulting in paraplegia or quadriplegia
  • amputation of two hands, two feet, or one of each
  • third-degree burns covering 40 percent or more of the body or the face, or
  • wrongful death of a parent of a minor child or children.
Tennessee's medical malpractice damages cap does not apply in any case where:
  • the defendant had a specific intent to inflict serious physical injury
  • the defendant intentionally falsified, destroyed, or concealed records containing material evidence in order to avoid liability, or
  • the defendant was under the influence of an intoxicant or stimulant, resulting in substantial impairment and causing injury or death.

(Learn more information about types of compensation, such as economic and non-economic damages, in a medical malpractice case.)

Expert Witness Requirements in Tennessee Med Mal Cases

Tennessee also has several requirements governing the use of expert medical witness testimony before and during a medical malpractice trial.
The first requirement most medical malpractice plaintiffs face is the affidavit of merit requirement. This requirement, also known as the "certificate of good faith" requirement, states that within 90 days of filing a medical liability claim, an injured person or that person's attorney must file a statement explaining that he or she consulted one or more experts about the case, who provided a signed written statement stating there is a good-faith basis for the action or that a good-faith basis cannot be determined from the currently-available evidence.
If the Certificate of Good Faith is not filed within 90 days, the court may dismiss the case "with prejudice," which prevents the injured plaintiff from filing it again.

Tennessee also has requirements regarding the medical experts who testify during a medical malpractice trial. An expert who testifies as such in a Tennessee medical malpractice trial must be licensed to practice either in Tennessee or in one of its bordering states. The expert must also be licensed in a profession or specialty that makes his or her testimony relevant to the injuries at issue in the case, and he or she must have practiced in that profession or specialty during the year before the date the injuries occurred. If such an expert cannot be found, the court may waive the requirement.

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