Couple fighting Tennessee state law they say puts a price on life


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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The parents of young man killed in a crash involving a bus and a tractor trailer says a state law prevents companies from being held accountable for its role in a wrongful death.

24-year-old Trent Roberts died in a crash on I-40 in northeastern Tennessee in October 2013. He was coming back from a family fishing trip, and his father, Bobby Roberts, traveled in a separate vehicle.

“I saw Trent’s vehicle, it looked like it rolled over a couple of times. Trent’s body was thrown into the woods. “I went down on my knees. And said, ‘Father, I know you will, he’s my buddy, please take care of him,’” says Bobby Robert.

Trent’s parents said through their investigation they learned the church bus that hit the tractor-trailer had a defective tire. They wanted to hold Hancock tire, the manufacturer, accountable. but found that the most their family would get is $750,000. Tennessee has a cap on wrongful death awards.

“We are the consequences of this law,” says Trent’s mother, Cathy Roberts.

The general assembly passed the law in 2011. Supporters said it would discourage frivolous lawsuits and attract new business. The court of appeals struck down Tennessee’s cap, calling it unconstitutional. It now goes to the Tennessee Supreme Court.

“We would like the Supreme Court to really dive into this. See the human side of the impact,” says Cathy Roberts.

Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery plans to fight to keep the $750,000 limit. He declined an on-camera interview, saying in part he “has the duty to defend the laws of the State of Tennessee.” He also added he is sorry for the Robert’s loss and understands their position.

The Roberts have settled their lawsuit, but say they want the cap struck down so that other families can hold corporations accountable when they manufacture faulty products.

“Then someday when we meet Trent in heaven, we can say, we did everything we could, buddy,” says Cathy Roberts.

As of today, the state Supreme Court doesn’t have a date set for hearing this case

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