In a huge victory for patients’ rights, the Georgia Supreme Court has struck down limits on jury awards in medical malpractice cases, including the state’s $350,000 cap on noneconomic damages, which was established in a 2005 tort reform law.
According to the decision, noneconomic caps violate the right to trial by jury that the Georgia Constitution guarantees.
The ruling upheld a $1.265 million jury award to Marietta real estate agent Betty Nestlehutt, now 75. After a face-lift operation in 2006, Nestlehutt’s face was covered with gaping wounds that required prolonged, excruciating treatments to keep them from becoming infected. The wounds left her permanently disfigured.
The 2005 law’s cap on damage awards "clearly nullifies the jury’s findings of fact regarding damages and thereby undermines the jury’s basic function," Chief Justice Carol Hunstein wrote for the court. She added, "The very existence of the caps, in any amount, is violative of the right to trial by jury." –AGC
Atlanta attorney Adam Malone scored the major victory for Nestlehutt following a grueling battle in the trial court and intermediate appellate court. His hard work has helped ensure not only that patients’ right to a fair trial by jury are restored in Georgia, but that the state’s Supreme Court will not allow damage caps to be reinstated anytime soon.
This decision in Georgia follows closely on the heels of a similar one in Illinois a few weeks ago. Hopefully, the rest of the country is paying attention to the loud and clear message that damage caps are arbitrary, unfair, and unconstitutional.
To see a short video about this incredible case, click here.