Georgia Supreme Court Blog

May 26, 2010

Mixed Review of Georgia Tort Reform Laws

Filed under: insurance, torts — bce30064 @ 12:45 am

The Georgia Supreme Court has recently reviewed several elements of the Georgia legislature’s 2005 controversial tort reforms. These cases pit the interests of injured plaintiffs against defendants, particularly doctors and their insurers. This battle raged in the legislature in 2005 and continues in the Georgia Supreme Court in 2010. The Court’s recent decisions on the tort reform represent a split decision.

Emergency Room Liability Limits Upheld

An ER physician mistakes a brain hemorrhage for a headache and his patient is left paralyzed. Ordinary people, and most doctors, must compensate victims of their negligence, but the Georgia Legislature changed the law for ER doctors in 2005. In Gliemmo et al. v. Cousineau et al. (Ga. 2010), the Georgia Supreme Court held that the tort reform statute limiting liability of ER physicians to “gross negligence” is not unconstitutional. More about this case.

Offer of Settlement Rules Upheld

The same package of tort reform that changed the law for ER doctors also authorized parties to wager attorneys’ fees in civil lawsuits. If a party rejects a nominal settlement and loses his or her case by motion or trial, that party may be responsible for paying the other side’s attorney fees. Sounds reasonable, but what happens when one party is rich, has expensive lawyers, and the other side lives paycheck-to-paycheck and can’t afford the wager? According to the Georgia Supreme Court, it’s okay to turn lawsuits into a poker game that the poor can’t afford to play because they have no right of access to the courts. More about this case.

Damages Caps Struck Down

In Atlanta Oculoplastic Surgery, P.C., d/b/a Oculus v. Nestlehutt et al. (Ga. 2010), the Georgia Supreme Court held that caps on non-economic compensatory damages enacted as tort reform unconstitutional violate the right to trial by jury. More about this case.


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