Georgia’s Cap in Medical Malpractice Cases

Maryland and Georgia both have rulings on tap from their high courts on caps on economic damages. Georgia got the ball rolling yesterday when the Georgia Supreme Court heard arguments yesterday on whether its cap on damages for medical malpractice claims is constitutional. A Georgia medical malpractice lawyer argued for the Plaintiff that the tort reform law in 2005 is unconstitutional because it grants unfair preferences and exemptions to hospital emergency departments.

Plaintiffs have a real shot in this case. The Georgia high court has previously stuck down laws that gave special exemptions to asbestos manufacturers facing property claims. Stay tuned…. (UPDATE: NOPE.)

Georgia Malpractice Cap

Laws that limit the amount of money a person can receive as compensation for being hurt in a personal injury or medical malpractice case are known as damages caps. Only 29 states, as of 2020, have such laws in place, and they vary from state to state. Usually, these laws only limit non-economic damages, which are harder to determine, such as pain, distress, loss of companionship, or permanent life changes.

Georgia used to have a cap of $350,000 for non-economic damages in medical malpractice cases or $700,000 if more than one person was responsible. However, in 2010, the state Supreme Court declared this cap to be unconstitutional in the case of Atlanta Oculoplastic Surgery, P.C. v. Nestlehutt.

Georgia Punitive Damages Cap

Georgia, Ga. Code Ann., § 51-12-5.1, governs the awarding of punitive damages in civil lawsuits in the state. Punitive damages, as most reader know,  are damages awarded in addition to compensatory damages, which are meant to compensate the plaintiff for actual losses. The purpose of punitive damages is to punish, penalize, or deter the defendant from engaging in similar conduct in the future.

According to the law, punitive damages may be awarded only if 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.” This means that the defendant must have acted with a high degree of recklessness or intentional wrongdoing in order for punitive damages to be awarded.

The law also specifies that an award of punitive damages must be specifically requested in the complaint, and the jury must first determine whether to award punitive damages before deciding on the amount.

There are different limits on the amount of punitive damages that may be awarded, depending on the circumstances of the case. For example, if the cause of action arises from a product liability case, there is no limit on the amount of punitive damages that may be awarded. In other tort cases, if the defendant acted with the specific intent to cause harm, there is also no limit on the amount of damages. However, for most other tort cases, the maximum amount of punitive damages that may be awarded is $250,000.

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