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Topic: Damages

Tennessee Caps on Damages for Sexual Harassment Cases

Posted on Feb 7 2018 6:42PM by Attorney, Jason A. Lee

Tennessee sexual harassment cases that are brought against an employer are governed by the Tennessee Human Rights Act. The underlying basis for claims against an employer for sexual harassment fall under the provision in T.C.A. § 4-21-401 that provides that it is a discriminatory practice for an employer to “fail or refuse to hire or discharge any person or otherwise to discriminate against an individual with respect to compensation, terms, conditions or privileges of employment because of such individual’s race, creed, color, religion, sex, age or national origin…”.  Sexual harassment cases fall within this section and I have previously discussed the Tennessee law standard for a sexual harassment case in my prior blog post here.

 

It is important to note that there are specific caps on damages for Tennessee sexual harassment claims (as well as other discriminatory causes of action brought against employers under the Tennessee Human Rights Act). Specifically, this statute provides the following in T.C.A. § 4-21-313:

 

(a) For any cause of action arising under § 4-21-401, § 8-50-103, or § 50-1-304, the sum of the amount of compensatory damages awarded for future pecuniary losses, emotional pain, suffering, inconvenience, mental anguish, loss of enjoyment of life, and other nonpecuniary losses, shall not exceed, for each complaining party:

(1) In the case of a cause of action arising under § 50-1-304 and an employer who has less than eight (8) employees at the time the cause of action arose, twenty-five thousand dollars ($25,000);

(2) In the case of an employer who has eight (8) or more but fewer than fifteen (15) employees at the time the cause of action arose, twenty-five thousand dollars ($25,000);

(3) In the case of an employer who has more than fourteen (14) and fewer than one hundred one (101) employees at the time the cause of action arose, fifty thousand dollars ($50,000);

(4) In the case of an employer who has more than one hundred (100) and fewer than two hundred one (201) employees at the time the cause of action arose, one hundred thousand dollars ($100,000);

(5) In the case of an employer who has more than two hundred (200) and fewer than five hundred one (501) employees at the time the cause of action arose, two hundred thousand dollars ($200,000); and

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TAGS: Damages, Employment Law, Sexual Harassment Comments [0]
  
 

Tennessee Tort of “Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress”

Posted on Dec 12 2017 4:04PM by Attorney, Jason A. Lee

Tennessee has the tort of Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress which is an important cause of action that allows a plaintiff to recover damages when the conduct of the defendant is outrageous.  There are very specific requirements for a plaintiff to be able to prove this cause of action in court.  In order to support a claim for Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress, the Tennessee Supreme Court has held that the following elements are required:

 

The elements of an intentional infliction of emotional distress claim are that the defendant's conduct was (1) intentional or reckless, (2) so outrageous that it is not tolerated by civilized society, and (3) resulted in serious mental injury to the plaintiff. Regarding the first element, the law is clear in Tennessee and elsewhere that either intentional or reckless conduct on the part of the defendant will suffice to establish intentional infliction of emotional distress.

 

Rogers v. Louisville Land Company et al, 367 S.W.3d 196, 205 (Tenn. 2012).  The Rogers case is a very important Tennessee Supreme Court case that definitively outlined the requirements for this cause of action.  In this case the court made it very clear that there is no difference between a claim for Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress and the claim for Reckless Infliction of Emotional Distress. Both are considered part of the same cause of action (either intentional or reckless conduct is sufficient to meet the threshold required for this cause of action).

 

Further, the familiar standard of “outrageous” conduct that has long been required for an Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress claim still stands. Specifically, that the conduct must be “so outrageous that it is not tolerated by civilized society”.  Obviously, this is generally a jury issue however courts have long stepped in to evaluate whether the facts of a case meet this threshold before sending the case to the jury.  This standard is a standard that can change over time because it is based on what is tolerated by “civilized society”.  For example, it is my view that certain types of sexual harassment and sexually hostile work environment situations are currently experiencing a shift in what is tolerated by “civilized” society. Importantly, our country is making significant progress on what it considers to be outrageous conduct by individuals who sexually harass women.  It is my position, therefore, that this standard has changed over time and what may not have been considered outrageous conduct in the 1980s certainly is outrageous conduct today.

 

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TAGS: Tennessee Tort Reform, Damages, Torts, Employment Law Comments [0]
  
 

Tennessee Supreme Court Overturns COA Dedmon case - Key Decision for Personal Injury cases on Medical Bill Evidence

Posted on Nov 17 2017 1:19PM by Attorney, Jason A. Lee

The Tennessee Supreme Court issued a very important decision today on the appeal in the Dedmon case.  Many people have been waiting on this decision from the plaintiff’s side and the defendant’s side.  The Dedmon case was the case where the Tennessee Court of Appeals ruled that defendants, in personal injury cases, could introduce evidence of the discounted amounts accepted by health providers or paid by insurance companies.  I previously blogged on this prior ruling here.  

 

The Tennessee Supreme Court reversed the key part of the prior Tennessee Court of Appeals decision today.  The key part in the new case (and a good summary of the current status of the law on this issue) is the following:

 

In sum, we hold that the definition of “reasonable charges” under the Hospital Lien Act set forth in West v. Shelby County Healthcare Corp., 459 S.W.3d 33 (Tenn. 2014), does not apply directly to determinations of “reasonable medical expenses” in personal injury cases; the West definition of “reasonable charges” is limited in application to interpretation of the Hospital Lien Act. We also decline to alter existing law in Tennessee regarding the collateral source rule. Consequently, the Plaintiffs may submit evidence of Mrs. Dedmon’s full, undiscounted medical bills as proof of her “reasonable medical expenses,” and the Defendants are precluded from submitting evidence of discounted rates for medical services accepted by medical providers as a result of Mrs.  Dedmon’s insurance. The Defendants remain free to submit any other competent evidence to rebut the Plaintiffs’ proof on the reasonableness of Mrs. Dedmon’s medical expenses, so long as the Defendants’ proof does not contravene the collateral source rule.  Thus, we affirm the Court of Appeals’ decision to reverse the trial court’s grant of the Defendants’ motion in limine, but we reverse the Court of Appeals to the extent that it held that the Defendants could introduce evidence of lesser amounts accepted by Mrs. Dedmon’s medical providers in order to rebut the Plaintiffs’ proof on reasonableness.

 

As a result, this basically returns the status of the law on this issue in Tennessee to the prior status quo.  Usually, the only evidence that a jury will now hear about the medical bills in a case is the amount of the medical bills charged by the medical care provider.  This effectively greatly inflates (in many situations) the amount of “medical bills” for an injury.  However, this is the law in Tennessee.  I expect this will not be the end of this issue and the Tennessee Legislature will take a look at trying to find a solution in the coming years.

 


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TAGS: Tennessee Tort Reform, Damages, Torts, Civil Procedure Comments [0]
  
 

Equal Pay Act Claims in Tennessee

Posted on Oct 12 2017 11:16AM by Attorney, Jason A. Lee

Equal Pay Act claims in Tennessee are essentially claims usually involve situations where a female employee is paid less than a male employee for the same job.  These claims can be brought in Tennessee under the Tennessee Equal Pay Act (found in T.C.A. § 50-2-201 et al) and under the Federal Equal Pay Act (found in 29 U.S.C. § 206(d)).  These statutes basically are very similar to each other.  These types of pay disparity claims can also be brought under Title VII for sex discrimination.

 

Initial Burden of the Plaintiff:

 

To establish a prima facie claim of unequal pay for equal work under the EPA, a plaintiff has the burden to prove that the employer “pays different wages to employees of opposite sexes for equal work on jobs the performance of which requires equal skill, effort, and responsibility, and which are performed under similar working conditions.” Vehar v. Cole Nat'l Group, Inc., 251 Fed.Appx. 993, 998 (6th Cir. 2007).  Essentially, a female employee meets this burden if she proves that she is paid less than a male employee performing the same job (does not need to be perfectly identical but does need to be substantially similar) at the employer.


Defenses Available to Employer:

 

After this initial burden is met by the employee, then the employer has some available defenses to try to combat a finding of liability under the EPA.  Specifically, once a plaintiff establishes a prima facie case of disparate pay, the burden shifts to the defendant to prove the wage differential is justified under one of four affirmative defenses: “(1) a seniority system; (2) a merit system; (3) a system which measures earnings by quantity or quality of production; or (4) any other factor other than sex.” Buntin v. Breathitt Cnty. Bd. of Educ., 134 F.3d 796, 799 (6th Cir.1998). 

 

I...

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TAGS: Damages, Employment Law, Statute of Limitations, Attorney Fees Comments [0]
  
 

There is No Claim for Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress on Solely Property Damage Loss Cases in Tennessee

Posted on Apr 30 2017 1:56PM by Attorney, Jason A. Lee

The Tennessee Court of Appeals in Richard Lane, et al v. Estate of Gary K. Leggett, No. M2016-00448-COA-R3-CV, 2017 WL 1176982 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2017) discussed whether a Plaintiff can recover for Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress for a claim that involves only property damage. In this case, the Plaintiff owned a business in White House, Tennessee. The Defendant rear-ended a vehicle and left the roadway at a high rate of speed, causing his car to run into the building that contained the Plaintiff’s business. The vehicle struck a gas meter which resulted in a significant fire and caused a complete loss of the Plaintiff’s business. The Plaintiff was not actually at the property at the time of the loss, but he returned shortly thereafter and witnessed the fire at his business.

 

As a result of this accident, the Plaintiff filed suit asserting that the loss of Plaintiff’s business and the great fire that was caused by the accident, as well as Plaintiff’s observations, caused him to have severe mental and emotional injuries.  He was even diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Anxiety from the incident. Plaintiff therefore claimed he was entitled to recover against the Defendant under the theory of negligent infliction of emotional distress for these personal injuries.

 

The Tennessee Court of Appeals noted that to recover damages under the theory of negligent infliction of emotional distress, a plaintiff must “prove each of the elements of general negligence; duty, breach of duty, injury or loss, causation and fact, and proximate, or legal, cause. A plaintiff must also prove that he or she has suffered a serious or severe emotional injury” (Lane at p. 3) (citing Camper v. Minor, 915 S.W.2d 437 (Tenn. 1996). Interestingly, however, no case in Tennessee has explicitly held that negligent infliction of emotional distress is an appropriate claim for a plaintiff resulting from emotional injuries that solely arise out of property damage.

 

The Court reviewed Tennessee Supreme Court cases and found one case that commented on this issue, but did not have a holding on this issue directly. In that case, Whaley v. Perkins, 197 S.W.3d 665, 670 (Tenn. 2006), the Tennessee Supreme Court stated the followin...

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TAGS: Damages, Negligence, Torts Comments [0]
  
 

Misrepresentation of Licensed Contractor Status in Tennessee Can Cause Significant Liability

Posted on Jul 4 2016 3:54PM by Attorney, Jason A. Lee

Tennessee law is clear that any person, firm or corporation who misrepresents that they are a licensed contractor is subject to significant penalties.  It is also against Tennessee law to act in the capacity of a “contractor” in Tennessee when one is not properly licensed.  Specifically, T.C.A. § 62-6-136 discusses this issue in subsection (A) as follows:

 

(a) It is unlawful for any person, firm or corporation to represent itself as a licensed contractor or to act in the capacity of a “contractor” as defined in §§ 62-6-102, or 62-37-103, and related rules and regulations of this state, or any similar statutes, rules and regulations of another state, while not licensed, unless such person, firm or corporation has been duly licensed under § 62-6-103 or § 62-37-104.

 

A licensed contractor is specifically defined in this statute.  This is a rather lengthy statute, but the key part is the provision that licensure is required for projects beyond $25,000.00.  The complete definition is found in T.C.A. § 62-6-102 which defines a contractor as follows:

 

(4)(A)(i) “Contractor” means any person or entity that undertakes to, attempts to or submits a price or bid or offers to construct, supervise, superintend, oversee, schedule, direct or in any manner assume charge of the construction, alteration, repair, improvement, movement, demolition, putting up, tearing down or furnishing labor to install material or equipment for any building, highway, road, railroad, sewer, grading, excavation, pipeline, public utility structure, project development, housing, housing development, improvement or any other construction undertaking for which the total cost is twenty-five thousand dollars ($25,000) or more; provided, however, with respect to a licensed masonry contractor, such term means and includes the masonry portion of the construction project, the total cost of which exceeds one hundred thousand dollars ($100,000), materials and labor;

(ii) “Contractor” includes, but is not limited to, a prime contractor, electrical contractor, electrical subcontractor, mechanical contractor, mechanical subcontractor, plumbing contractor and plumbing subcontractor, masonry contractor, and roofing subcontractor where the total cost of the roofing portion of the construction project is twenty-five thousand dollars ($25,000) or more;

(iii...

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TAGS: Damages, Tennessee Consumer Protection Act, Corporation/LLC Law, Construction Law Comments [0]
  
 

“Reasonable” Medical Expenses in Tennessee (Amount Billed or Amount Paid?) – The Law After West and Dedmon for Personal Injury Litigation

Posted on Jun 7 2016 3:21PM by Attorney, Jason A. Lee

A very important Tennessee Court of Appeals opinion was issued on June 2, 2016.  In this case, Jean Dedmon v. Debbie Steelman, No. W2015-01462-COA-R9-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. June 2, 2016), the Court discussed whether the amount an insurance company actually pays for medical services in a personal injury action, is, as a matter of law, the “reasonable” amount of medical expenses.  In order to recover medical expenses under Tennessee law, in a personal injury action, the plaintiff must prove the medical expenses were reasonable and necessary.  The reason the Dedmon decision is so important is because of the West v. Shelby County Healthcare Corp., 459 S.W.3d 33 (Tenn. 2014) decision.  In the West case, the Tennessee Supreme Court, when interpreting the Tennessee Hospital Lien Act, essentially found that a hospital’s non-discounted charges reflected in their lien, were not reasonable because they do not reflect what is actually being paid in the marketplace.  The Court found that, under the Tennessee Hospital Lien Act, the amount actually paid for the hospital charges were the reasonable charges for the services provided, not the amounts billed which were, as a matter of law, unreasonable.

 

Since the time of the West decision, several trial courts and some Federal district courts have decided that the West case reasoning also applies to personal injury actions.  They have found that essentially, in a personal injury action in the State of Tennessee, evidence of the actual amount actually paid for medical bills is the only amount that can be introduced into evidence, not the amount billed or charged by the provider.  The reason is, due to insurance industry dynamics, there is almost always a significant difference in the amount billed or charged by the provider and the amount actually paid by insurance, Medicare or otherwise.  For instance, in the Dedmon case, the total amount of “incurred” medical expenses were $52,482.87 (the amount charged by the providers).  However, the plaintiff’s health insurance carrier only paid $18,255.42.  As a result, there is a significant disparity between the amount billed and the amount actually paid.


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TAGS: Tennessee Tort Reform, Damages, Evidence, Civil Procedure Comments [1]
  
 

Lawsuit filed in Tennessee General Sessions Court for Property Damage Cannot be Amended to Add Personal Injury Damages After Statute of Limitations Has Run

Posted on Apr 17 2016 3:49PM by Attorney, Jason A. Lee

A recent case dealt with an attempted amendment to add personal injury damages after the initial suit only requested property damages.  The case was State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company v. Robert Blondin, No. M2014-01756-COA-R3-CV, 2016 WL 1019609 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2016).  This case was about a July 7, 2009 automobile accident that occurred where an individual sustained personal injury and property damages.  State Farm Insurance filed a Civil Warrant on May 17, 2010 to recover amounts paid to their own insured under the uninsured motorist provision of their policy.  State Farm sued the allegedly at fault driver for property damage only as outlined in their initial Civil Warrant.  On July 15, 2010, after the 1 year statute of limitations for personal injury, State Farm filed a motion to amend the Civil Warrant to assert personal injury damages as well.  The General Sessions Court denied the motion due to the fact the statute of limitations had expired.  State Farm then appealed to the Circuit Court where this request was also denied and then the case was set for trial.  State Farm next voluntarily dismissed the case without prejudice prior to trial. 

 

After the dismissal without prejudice, State Farm refiled the action in General Sessions Court on January 31, 2012.  This time, State Farm’s Civil Warrant was for personal injury and property damages.  Ultimately, the Circuit Court, on appeal from General Sessions Court, went forward with the trial and allowed the case to be tried seeking both personal injury and property damages.  The Court awarded personal injury and property damages at the trial.  This case was then appealed to the Tennessee Court of Appeals over the statute of limitations issue. 

 

The Tennessee Court of Appeals reversed the decision of the trial Circuit Court.  The Court found that “the statute of limitations operated to deprive the General Sessions Court of subject matter jurisdiction to hear the claim for personal injuries”.  State Farm at p. 3.  Further, the appeals and voluntary dismissal by State Farm did not operate to revive or extend the statute of limitations because the statute of limitations was already extinguished. State Farm at p. 3.  The Court also discussed State Farm’s argument that the saving statute under T.C.A. § 28-1-105 somehow permitted State Farm to re-file the previous action and rely upon the prior filing of the lawsuit to extend statute of limitation.  The Court noted that the saving statute did permit State Farm to re-file the cause of action but it did not resurrect the previously barred cause of...

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TAGS: Damages, Defenses, Statute of Limitations, Civil Procedure Comments [0]
  
 

Tennessee Jury Award of Damages Significantly Less Than Medical Bills Overturned by Tennessee Court of Appeals

Posted on Nov 28 2015 12:03PM by Attorney, Jason A. Lee

Sometimes juries make interesting decisions that need to be sorted out by the Tennessee Appellate Courts.  The recent case of Khadijeh Naraghian v. Darryle K. Wilson, No. W2014-02002-COA-R3-CV, 2015 WL 7012526 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2015) dealt with an automobile accident that occurred in Shelby County Tennessee.  In this case, the plaintiff alleged the defendant struck the plaintiff’s vehicle in the rear causing a neck injury to the plaintiff due to the accident.  Liability for the accident was disputed based upon the theory of alleged comparative fault of the plaintiff.  Regardless, there were approximately $13,440.00 of medical bills that were not contested by the defendant by any substantive counter medical proof. 

 

Ultimately, the jury found in favor of the plaintiff and awarded a total of $7,831.67.  The jury also found the plaintiff was 44.58% at fault for the accident and therefore the trial court reduced the award to $4,340.31.  The question on appeal was whether the jury award was disproportionate to the amount of damages actually proved at trial.

 

The Tennessee Court of Appeals found the award was not appropriate based on the evidence and therefore the award of damages was reversed.  The Court noted that it was basically undisputed that the plaintiff incurred approximately $13,440.00 in medical expenses.  The plaintiff asserted the jury cannot simply arbitrarily disallow part of the medical expenses that were incurred as a result of the injury.  The Tennessee Court of Appeals agreed.  The Court found the following:

 

As we have already stressed, there was no evidence in this case rebutting the necessity or reasonableness of the charges billed by Dr. Burford. His testimony was essentially unimpeached. Because we cannot reconcile the jury's verdict with the undisputed evidence that was presented, we must vacate the trial court's judgment and remand this matter for a new trial.

 

Id. at 5. 

 

This case is certainly interesting because it shows that a jury cannot disregard competent uncont...

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TAGS: Jury Issues, Damages, Post Judgment Motions Comments [0]
  
 

Most Conservative and Liberal Tennessee Jurisdictions for Personal Injury and Death Cases Over the Last 5 Years (July 1, 2009 – June 30, 2014) – A Statistical Analysis

Posted on Oct 19 2015 9:42AM by Attorney, Jason A. Lee

I previously discussed major trends in Tennessee verdicts and the conservative or liberal nature of many counties in Tennessee for verdicts in personal injury cases.  This post is designed to provide updated statistics on the most recent data available so you have the best information covering the last five years.  This information can provide valuable insight on the risks associated with taking a case to trial in the various Tennessee jurisdictions.

 

The statistics contained in the below chart are for the 5 year period covering July 1, 2009 through June 30, 2014 (based on the most recent Tennessee judiciary reports currently available).  These numbers include both jury and non-jury cases (because the statistics available do not separate them out). I will list the counties in order with the most conservative at the beginning of the list and the most liberal at the bottom of the list (when I use the terms “conservative” and “liberal” I am simply referring to the percentages of cases where damages were actually awarded). 

 

District and County

Cases Tried

Cases Awarded Damages

Percentage of cases awarded damages

District 27 (Obion, Weakley)

7

0

0

District 28 (Crockett, Gibson, Haywood)

4

0

0

District 29 (Dyer, Lake)

10

0

0

District 25 (Fayette, Hardeman, Lauderdale, McNairy, Tipton)

36

1

2.8

District 17 (Bedford, Lincoln, Marshall, Moore)

35

1

2.9

District 23 (Cheatham, Dickson, Houston, Humphreys, Stewart)

16

1

6.3

District 8 (Campbell, Claiborne, Fentress, Scott, Union)

131

14

10.7

District 15 (Jackson, Macon, Smith, Trousdale, Wilson)

39

6

15.4

District 12 (Bledsoe, Franklin, Grundy, Marion, Rhea, Sequatchie)

50

10

20.0

District 24 (Benton, Carroll, Decatur, Hardin, Henry)

30

6

20.0

District 10 (Bradley, McMinn, Monroe, Polk)

99

22

22.2

District 13 (Clay, Cumberland, Dekalb, Overton, Pickett, Putnam, White)

96

23

24.0

District 4 (Cocke, Grainger, Jefferson Sevier)

66

19

28.8

District 16 (Cannon, Rutherford)

116

34

29.3

District 2 (Sullivan)

28

9

32.1

District 3 (Greene, Hamblen, Hancock, Hawkins)

31

10

32.3

District 21 (Hickman, Lewis, Perry, Williamson)

37

12

32.4

District 1 (Carter, Johnson, Unicoi, Washington)

49

16

32.7

District 11 (Hamilton)

191

66

34.6

District 5 (Blount)

31

11

35.5

District 6 (Knox)

256

94

36.7

District 18 (Sumner)

60

23

38.3

District 31 (Van Buren, Warren)

10

4

40.0

District 22 (Giles, Lawrence, Maury, Wayne)

24

10

41.7

District 9 (Loudon, Meigs, Morgan, Roane)

32

15

46.8

District 26 (Chester, Henderson, Madison)

82

39

47.6

District 19 (Montgomery, Robertson)

77

39

50.6

District 7 (Anderson)

71

36

50.7

District 30 (Shelby)

415

211

50.8

District 20 (Davidson)

313

185

59.1

District 14 (Coffee)

19

14

73.7

 

Generally, most Tennessee counties are conservative when it comes to assessing damages in personal injury or death cases.  Overall, there were 2471 cases tried in Tennessee during this 5 year period.  A total of 931 resulted in monetary damages.  This means only 37.7% of personal injury cases that went to trial in Tennessee actually resulted in monetary damages over the last five years.  Also, remember that some cases go to trial where there is a stipulation or concession of liability and the only issue is the extent of monetary damages.  As a result, the actual percentage of cases where damages are awarded are probably significantly lower than the above statistics because of this factor that cannot be determined by the statistics.

 

The above information can provide valuable insight to attorneys, corporations and insurance companies on the general proclivities of certain Tennessee jurisdictions in personal injury cases.  The two most liberal jurisdictions (setting aside Coffee County which has a very small sample size) are Davidson County and Shelby County, as would be expected.  However, even in those counties, it is close to a 50/50 proposition on whether damages will be awarded or not.  When compared to my prior statistical report that was done covering a 7 year period from 2005 to 2012, it is clear most Tennessee jurisdictions have become more reluctant to award damages in personal injury or death cases.

 

Follow me on Twitter at @jasonalee for updates from the Tennessee Defense Litigation blog.
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TAGS: Jury Issues, Damages, Tennessee Legal Statistics Comments [4]
  
 
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Jason A. Lee is a Member of Burrow Lee, PLLC. He practices in all areas of defense litigation inside and outside of Tennessee.

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