Caps on damages found to be unconstitutional

The Atlanta Journal constitution wrote a story about a Georgia Judge finding tort reform caps to be unconstitutional.  The cap on monetary awards in a medical malpractice case was found to be unconstitutional.

Superior Court Judge Marvin Arrington wrote in an order that the legislative cap of $350,000 for noneconomic damages such as pain and suffering was unconstitutional because it gave special protections to the medical profession. This meant people injured by doctors had less protection than those injured by others.

“It is absurd to say that if you get injured by a product that the jury can decide your noneconomic damages, but if you get injured by medical malpractice, it can’t,” said Trent Speckhals, one of the lawyers for Cheon Park, the plaintiff in the case.

The legislature approved the $350,000 cap in 2005 as part of a civil-justice tort reform law over the opposition of the Georgia Trial Lawyers Association and consumer groups.   In 2006, the Georgia Supreme Court stuck down another provision of tort reform when it ruled that defendants couldn’t decide in which county their medical-malpractice case was tried.

In his written opinion, Arrington complained that limiting the caps meant that in many cases, large jury awards would be issued only to wealthy people who could point to the loss of large incomes.

“The statute effectively puts substantial limitations on the rights of the poor and middle class to recovery while leaving the right to virtually unlimited recoveries unimpeded for the wealthy,” Arrington said. “The disabled manager of a hedge fund, a corporate CEO, an entertainer or such other person whose income is in the tens of millions of dollars has a claim under Georgia law that would dwarf the amount awarded in any case for pain and suffering.”