The Atlanta Journal Constitution reported the unanimous Georgia Supreme Court decision striking down arbitrary caps on jury awards in medical malpractice cases, part of the state’s 2005 tort reform law. The state high court determined that a $350,000 cap on noneconomic damages, which includes compensation for a plaintiff’s pain and suffering, violates the right to a jury trial as guaranteed under the Georgia Constitution.
The 2005 law’s cap on damage awards "clearly nullifies the jury’s findings of fact regarding damages and thereby undermines the jury’s basic function," Chief Justice Carol Hunstein wrote for the court. She added, "The very existence of the caps, in any amount, is violative of the right to trial by jury."
The ruling upheld a $1.265 million jury award to Betty Nestlehutt after an operation in 2006 resulted in Nestlehutt’s face covered with gaping wounds that required prolonged, excruciating treatments to keep them from becoming infected. The wounds left her permanently disfigured.
About two dozen states have enacted caps on damage awards in medical malpractice cases. Last month, the Illinois Supreme Court declared unconstitutional a $500,000 cap against doctors and a $1 million cap against hospitals. Georgia’s tort reform law limited awards to $350,000 against doctors and capped total awards at $1.05 million in cases involving multiple health-care providers and medical facilities.