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One thing that gives me good cheer is the periodic eruption of legal common sense that provides a little more justice in our society.
The latest advance comes from a state not known for progressive eruptions: Georgia. In 2005, the legislature joined in what was then a legal fad to restrict access to state courts by patients who’re harmed by the medical negligence of hospitals, doctors, and others. Georgia legislators, responding to myths and outright lies pushed by insurance corporations, imposed an arbitrary cap of $350,000 on any damages for pain and suffering that juries could award to victims of malpractice – no matter how horrendous the suffering.
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The myth spread by insurance lobbyists and corporate front groups was that there was a national epidemic of stupid, runaway juries awarding millions of dollars for nothing but a hangnail, thus causing health care costs to explode. In fact, though, even the wildest interpretation of rising health costs finds less than 1.5 percent attributable to lawsuits.
Meanwhile, in a case that recently came before Georgia’s Supreme Court, a lady whose face was permanently disfigured by a surgeon had been awarded $900,000 by a jury for her pain and suffering. But the state’s artificial cap on such awards negated the jury’s finding, forcing her payment to be slashed by 60 percent.
Now, however, in a unanimous vote that includes Republican judges, the Georgia Supremes have overturned the 2005 law. “The very existence of caps, in any amount,” ruled the chief justice, is an improper legislative interference with a jury’s role and thus violates “the right to trial by jury.”
Such caps have also been struck down by courts in five other states. For more information on the myths and realities of medical malpractice, contact Public Citizen: www.citizen.org.
“Ruling Strikes Down Georgia’s Cap on Malpractice Awards,” The New York Times, March 23, 2010.
“Damage Cap for Georgia Malpractice Lawsuits Struck Down,” www.aboutlawsuits.com, March 24, 2010.
“Public Citizen Statement,” March 25, 2010.
“Georgia medical malpractice damages cap constitutional argued in Supreme Court,” www.atlantainjurylawblog.com, September 16, 2009.