A little over a month ago, the Georgia Supreme Court unanimously decided that a cap on jury awards for medical malpractice claims is unconstitutional. The Court stated in its opinion that Georgia’s cap of $350,000 violated a person’s right to a trial by jury. (Here is a link to the full decision: http://www.gasupreme.us/sc-op/pdf/s09a1432.pdf) The cap had applied to pain and suffering and other “non-economic damages” but not to medical bills.
The cap had been part of a tort reform package passed by the Georgia Legislature in 2005. It was overturned in response to a medical malpractice lawsuit filed in Atlanta on behalf of a woman whose facelift and aesthetic procedures were botched, requiring additional surgeries to repair the damage and resulting in permanent disfigurement. The plaintiff had been awarded $900,000 for pain and suffering by a jury, but that amount would have been reduced to $350,000 if the GA Supreme Court had not declared the cap unconstitutional.
Georgia was one of the 30 states that have a cap on pain and suffering jury awards. Louisiana and Mississippi currently have a $500,000 cap against doctors while the cap in Texas is a puny $250,000. It will be interesting to see if the ruling will have an impact on caps in other states, especially since the Illinois Supreme Court overturned Illinois’ medical malpractice cap of $500,000 for non-economic damages against doctors in February.
I have personally handled medical malpractice cases in Louisiana and in Mississippi where the injury was severe and the cap limit punished my client by denying full compensation. The thing to remember is that in medical malpractice cases, the injury is rarely minimal and can truly be devastating for the patient. One child’s injury caused him to forever lose his ability to eat normally and he has to be fed through a tube. This is an example of a non-economic damage. For a life-long condition such as this, the cap is clearly insufficient to compensate him. Is it unconstitutional? You betcha.