A civil lawsuit against Brentwood Academy accusing the Nashville prep school of negligence and fact concealment relating to an allegedly pervasive pattern of bullying, sexual harassment, assault and sexual assault is seeking $30 million in combined damages. Brentwood Academy is accused of allowing teenage male students to repeatedly harass and sexually assault a classmate, and then downplaying the attacks and failing to report the incident to authorities. In addition to seeking justice for the plaintiff, the lawsuit will also test the constitutionality of Tennessee’s lawsuit damages caps.
According to The Tennessean, “The lawsuit takes on a state law that in many cases limits the amount of money a person can receive to $750,000 if they win a civil lawsuit – no matter how much money a jury decides a person should pocket.” Plaintiffs contend that the jury’s power to decide the full extent of harm in a suit has been taken away by the legislature.
“This case might be one where the courts examine the question of whether the legislature violated the constitution with its new damages caps,” Lieff Cabraser attorney Mark P. Chalos told The Tennessean.
“Based on the facts alleged in the complaint, the child has a reasonable argument that his case meets an exception to the caps for at least some of the defendants, particularly if they destroyed or concealed documents,” said Chalos. “If the facts alleged in the complaint are proven true at trial, a reasonable jury could certainly find the harm caused to this child justifies a large amount of compensation, perhaps in the range that the lawsuit asks for,” he said.
The plaintiffs are suing Brentwood Academy for $15 million in compensation and $15 million in punitive damages — a vastly higher recovery than what current Tennessee state law permits.
Nonetheless, as The Tennessean notes, “there are exceptions. The Brentwood Academy lawsuit asks a jury to award John Doe well above that sum based on the part of the law that says a cap would not apply if the ‘defendant intentionally falsified, destroyed or concealed records.’”
As described in the plaintiffs’ suit, the Academy’s conduct seems egregious, furthering horrific harm to the subject child and leading to significant costs for medical treatment and counseling alone. At least for the next stage of the proceedings, the decision of whether or not this particular case meets the exemptions to the Tennessee’s arbitrary cap on damages will lie in the jury’s hands.