The Georgia Supreme Court heard oral arguments on a case that could invalidate the insurance industry’s attempts to provide immunity to the most negligent doctors and deny recovery to the most devastatingly injured patients.
When 75-year-old Betty Nestlehutt‘s skin on her face started to die after her plastic surgeon cut off blood flow to her face, the gaping wounds from her temple to her chin paled in comparison to the permanent scarring endured in her heart. Surely, a jury would do their very best to fully compensate her for her pain and suffering.
A Fulton County jury did, in fact, award her a substantial $1.15 Million verdict for non-economic damages (including $900,000 for her own pain and suffering) along with $115,000 for past and future medical expenses. This was precisely the type of result that juries spend hours deliberating, missing days of work, hearing evidence, determining the facts of the case. Little did they know that their decision would be undercut by Georgia’s "Tort Reform" law.
Under Georgia’s law, which mirrors the laws in many other states and which Republicans in Congress are all too ready to impose nationally, the role of the jury is unilaterally undermined because no matter what their findings are for noneconomic pain and suffering, Georgia had a maximum damages cap of $350,000 ($550,000 less than what this jury thought Ms. Nestlehutt merited).
Courts all over the country are handcuffed by the laws, which often conflict with Constitutional protections for the right to jury trials. Lawyers are challenging a similar law in Indiana where the cap is higher than in Georgia.
Ultimately, these "tort reform" caps are really nothing more than Crooked Justice for insurance companies and negligent doctors. As the lawyers for Ms. Nestlehutt argued, the most injured patients are blocked from gaining their full compensation, and the most egregiously negligent doctors will never have to full pay for their negligence. In a country that values the right to a trial by jury, we should not let insurance lobbyists devalue that time honored and cherished tradition.
recently named in the 2009 edition of Best Lawyer's In America, David Mittleman has been representing seriously injured people since 1985. A partner with Church Wyble PC—a division of Grewal Law PLLC—Mr. Mittleman and his partners focus on medical malpractice, wrongful death, car accidents, slip and falls, nursing home injury, pharmacy/pharmacist negligence and disability claims.