The Georgia Supreme Court unanimously set aside a Georgia law that limited the amount of money a jury could award to victims of medical malpractice. No longer will those injured by medical negligence in Georgia be subjected to the $350,000 cap on pain and suffering set be the Georgia legislator.
The Court emphasized in its decision that the cap on non-economic damages violated the constitutional right to a jury trial which is mandated by the Georgia Constitution. This is a large victory for those injured in medical malpractice cases. Equally important, the decision seems to have sent a clear message to the Georgia legislators that attempts to pass new laws with similar limits will not be upheld by the Court since the right to a jury trial is derived from the Georgia Constitution.
Punitive damages are also something that may be considered in Georgia, if the conduct complained of rises to the level that warrants the imposition of punitive damages, which are allowed under O.C.G.A. § 51-12-5.1 as follows:
(a) As used in this Code section, the term “punitive damages” is synonymous with the terms “vindictive damages,” “exemplary damages,” and other descriptions of additional damages awarded because of aggravating circumstances in order to penalize, punish, or deter a defendant.
(b) Punitive damages may be awarded only in such tort actions in which it is proven by clear and convincing evidence that the defendant’s actions showed willful misconduct, malice, fraud, wantonness, oppression, or that entire want of care which would raise the presumption of conscious indifference to consequences.
(c) Punitive damages shall be awarded not as compensation to a plaintiff but solely to punish, penalize, or deter a defendant.
(d) (1) An award of punitive damages must be specifically prayed for in a complaint. In any case in which punitive damages are claimed, the trier of fact shall first resolve from the evidence produced at trial whether an award of punitive damages shall be made. This finding shall be made specially through an appropriate form of verdict, along with the other required findings.
(2) If it is found that punitive damages are to be awarded, the trial shall immediately be recommenced in order to receive such evidence as is relevant to a decision regarding what amount of damages will be sufficient to deter, penalize, or punish the defendant in light of the circumstances of the case. It shall then be the duty of the trier of fact to set the amount to be awarded according to subsection (e), (f), or (g) of this Code section, as applicable.
(e) (1) In a tort case in which the cause of action arises from product liability, there shall be no limitation regarding the amount which may be awarded as punitive damages. Only one award of punitive damages may be recovered in a court in this state from a defendant for any act or omission if the cause of action arises from product liability, regardless of the number of causes of action which may arise from such act or omission.
(2) Seventy-five percent of any amounts awarded under this subsection as punitive damages, less a proportionate part of the costs of litigation, including reasonable attorney’s fees, all as determined by the trial judge, shall be paid into the treasury of the state through the Office of the State Treasurer. Upon issuance of judgment in such a case, the state shall have all rights due a judgment creditor until such judgment is satisfied and shall stand on equal footing with the plaintiff of the original case in securing a recovery after payment to the plaintiff of damages awarded other than as punitive damages. A judgment debtor may remit the state’s proportional share of punitive damages to the clerk of the court in which the judgment was rendered. It shall be the duty of the clerk to pay over such amounts to the Office of the State Treasurer within 60 days of receipt from the judgment debtor. This paragraph shall not be construed as making the state a party at interest and the sole right of the state is to the proceeds as provided in this paragraph.
(f) In a tort case in which the cause of action does not arise from product liability, if it is found that the defendant acted, or failed to act, with the specific intent to cause harm, or that the defendant acted or failed to act while under the influence of alcohol, drugs other than lawfully prescribed drugs administered in accordance with prescription, or any intentionally consumed glue, aerosol, or other toxic vapor to that degree that his or her judgment is substantially impaired, there shall be no limitation regarding the amount which may be awarded as punitive damages against an active tort-feasor but such damages shall not be the liability of any defendant other than an active tort-feasor.
(g) For any tort action not provided for by subsection (e) or (f) of this Code section in which the trier of fact has determined that punitive damages are to be awarded, the amount which may be awarded in the case shall be limited to a maximum of $250,000.00.
As an experienced Georgia Medical Malpractice lawyer, we are proud or our Supreme Court of Georgia for protecting those injured medical malpractice victims who otherwise would not have been fully compensated for their injuries.