Georgia High Court strikes down Caps on Malpractice Awards

Posted on Mar 23, 2010
On March 22, 2010, the Georgia Supreme Court unanimously held that the state legislature may not limit the amount of money that juries award to victims of medical malpractice. The state law set a $350,000 limit on jury awards for pain and suffering in medical malpractice cases.

The ruling struck down a 2005 state law that capped jury awards at $350,000 for the pain and suffering of malpractice victims.  The Supreme Court held that the cap improperly removed a jury's fundamental role to determine the damages in a civil case.

The Georgia Supreme Court's 7-0 ruling concluded that the cap violated the right to a jury trial because it "clearly nullifies the jury's findings of fact regarding damages and thereby undermines the jury's basic function". Chief Justice Carol Hunstein wrote in the opinion.  "The very existence of caps, in any amount, is violative of the right to trial by jury." Chief Justice Hunstein wrote.

The court's ruling centered on a case involving Betsy Nestlehutt, a 71-year old who was awarded $1.15 million in non-economic damages--including $900,000 in pain and suffering--by a jury in Fulton County afer she was permanently disfigured after a botched facelift.  But under the cap, that would have been reduced to $115,000 for medical expenses and $350,000 for non-economic damages. On Monday, the original award was reinstated.

Thirty states, the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico place caps on jury awards in malpractice cases.  However, since the late 1980s, such caps have been struck down by courts in New Hampshire, Oregon, Washington, Wisconsin and, most recently, last month in Illinois.

Monday was a great day for the rights of injured victims of malpractice!

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