The governors of South Carolina, Tennessee and Alabama have recently signed tort reform bills designed to benefit existing businesses and attract new ones to their respective states.
South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley (R) signed the “South Carolina Fairness in Justice Act of 2011” (H. 3375). Effective January 1, 2012, the bill includes limits on punitive damages modeled after Florida’s cap; requires disclosure of insurance policy limits for personal auto policies in accident cases; mandates that circuit solicitors obtain the attorney general’s approval before hiring outside counsel to file a civil action or filing a civil action; revises the statute of repose for construction cases; and caps appeal bonds at $25 million for businesses with 50 or more employees and gross revenue of more than $5 million, while imposing a $1 million limit for all other entities or individuals “Tort reform is a top priority to further protect our state’s businesses from the threat of unjustified, debilitating lawsuits while preserving everyone’s access to our legal system,” said bill co-sponsor Representative Bobby Harrell (R-Charleston). See S.C. Rep. Bobby Harrell Press Release, June 1, 2011.
Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam (R) signed the “Tennessee Civil Justice Act” (H.B. 2008/S.B. 1522). The bill (i) “clarifies and defines the venue where a business can be sued”; (ii) “places a $750,000 cap on non-economic damages, except in instances of intentional misconduct, records destruction, or conduct under the influence of drugs or alcohol”; (iii) “raises the cap to $1 million on non-economic damages for catastrophic losses resulting in paraplegia, quadriplegia, amputation, substantial burns or wrongful death of a parent leaving minor children”; and (iv) “places a cap on damages of two times the compensatory damages or $500,000, whichever is greater, except in instances of intentional misconduct, records destruction, or conduct under the influence of drugs or alcohol,” according to Haslam.
“This tort reform legislation will help us attract and retain jobs by offering businesses more predictability and a way to quantify risk,” Haslam said. See Tenn. Gov. Bill Haslam Press Release, June 16, 2011.
Alabama Governor Robert Bentley (R) signed into law five measures aimed at improving “the court system” in the state, according to Senator Cam Ward (R-Alabaster), a key tort reform player. Ward said that the “Alabama Small Business Protection Act” (S.B. 184) “will prohibit product liability actions against sellers if they are not the manufacturer and did not cause any defect in the product.” Other legislation (S.B. 187) “updates the standard for admissibility of expert testimony in certain civil cases and major criminal cases to reflect the standard used in the federal court system.” Another bill (S.B. 207) will lower post-judgment interest from 12 percent to 7.5 percent, the “current Southeast average.” Another measure (S.B. 212) “will prohibit ‘forum shopping’ of wrongful death actions by requiring that a suit can be brought only in the county where the decedent could have filed suit.” And another bill (S.B. 59) “lessens the statute of repose such that an architect, engineer or builder may not be sued if alleged damages occur over 7 years after their work is completed.” See Ala. Sen. Cam Ward Press Release, June 9, 2011.