The Georgia Supreme Court struck down the state's caps on noneconomic damages in medical liability cases, gutting a 2005 tort reform law. The decision comes on the heels of a setback to caps on awards in Illinois.
Ga. high court guts tort reform law
In a 7-0 ruling, the court ruled that the caps interfere with the right to a jury trial guaranteed under Georgia's constitution. The Legislature, finding that rising liability insurance premiums were causing a crisis of healthcare access, passed a law that capped noneconomic awards at $350,000 from providers and facilities; $700,000 from multiple facilities; and $1.05 million from multiple providers and facilities.
“Today's court ruling to strike down proven medical liability reform in Georgia is a step backward for the state's patients and physicians as Georgia once again allows a broken legal system to jeopardize access to healthcare,” American Medical Association President James Rohack said in a written statement.
Just last week, the Georgia Supreme Court upheld another provision of the tort reform law, which requires plaintiffs to prove “gross negligence” in cases involving emergency care, offering physicians and hospitals some hope that the court would uphold the caps as well. But Chief Justice Carol Hunstein, writing for the majority, concludes, “The very existence of the caps, in any amount, is violative of the right to trial by jury.”
The case at issue involves a woman who in 2006 was left severely disfigured after having cosmetic surgery on her face. The opinion affirms the trial judge's decision to declare the caps were unconstitutional and grant the victim the jury's full award of $1.15 million beyond medical expenses.
In February the Illinois Supreme Court ruled against that state's similar caps on awards, prompting a statement from the American Medical Association emphasizing the need for such state efforts to rein in premiums in the absence of a national solution to the problem.
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