Filing Circuit Court Cases in General Sessions Court

A client walks into my office with a serious personal injury case. She was hurt in a car wreck 11 months ago, spent a week in the hospital, and continues to undergo therapy. From experience I figure a jury would return a verdict in the neighborhood of $250,000.

I immediately file a civil warrant for $25,000 in General Sessions Court.

The judge finds the defendant 100 percent at fault and awards my client the Sessions damage cap of $25,000.

The defendant appeals within 10 days to Circuit Court. I amend my damage claim to $250,000. Then I serve defense counsel with a discovery tsunami: interrogatories, requests for production of documents, requests for admission and notices of depositions.

But my learned opponent and his client aren’t playing my game. I receive in the morning mail a copy of defendant’s dismissal of the appeal pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. §27-5-107. I yank Volume 4A of the code from my bookshelf and read that “the appellee is entitled to affirmance of the judgment below.” My client has a $25,000 judgment for her $250,000 worth of potential damages!

I grab an early beer to ease the realization that I am stupid. Now I must call my client and my malpractice carrier.

Nothing persuades me that a big bucks case should be initially filed in a small bucks court. If you need contrary persuasion, read Crowley v. Thomas, 343 S.W.3d 32 (Tenn. 2011). On similar facts Mr. Crowley was stuck with $14,500 instead of the $300,000 he wanted.

Yes, I could have appealed the $25,000 judgment even though I “won.” See Tenn. Code Ann. §27-5-108(a). But what good have I done my client by wasting time in General Sessions Court?


Don Paine Donald F. Paine is a past president of the Tennessee Bar Association and is of counsel to the Knoxville firm of Paine, Tarwater, and Bickers LLP. He lectures for the Tennessee Law Institute, BAR/BRI Bar Review, and the Tennessee Judicial Conference.