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. 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. 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.
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