Does Georgia Place Caps on Damages in Personal Injury Cases?

If you are injured in an accident and prevail in a personal injury suit, you will be compensated in the form of monetary damages.The purpose of damages in a personal injury case is to compensate the victim so that they are in the same position they would be in had the accident never occurred. Thus, damage awards are compensatory—the plaintiff receives one the amount that will make him or her whole again.Because compensatory damages are awarded on a sliding scale relative to the plaintiff’s needs, damage awards can reach into the millions of dollars. In order to cut down on damage awards that many view as excessive, many state legislatures have enacted caps on the amount of damages that juries are able to award.

How Damages Caps Work

The main argument behind damage caps is that the United States is an excessively litigious society and that too many view personal injury lawsuits as a get-rich-quick scheme. Damage caps are thus designed to discourage lawsuit-happy litigants from filing frivolous lawsuits and clogging up the court system. The main argument against damage caps is that they unfairly limit the recourse available to injured parties and that judges already have the power to either decrease or increase unreasonable damages awards. The way damages caps work is fairly simple—they are a creature of state statute, wherein the state legislature places what they consider to be a reasonable limit on the amount of money a jury can award. Some states limit damages based on the type of action that is brought in the court—for example, the damages cap may only apply to medical malpractice or wrongful death. Other times they apply to certain categories of damages, most commonly to noneconomic damages, such as pain and suffering, and punitive damages.

Damages Caps in Georgia

The state of Georgia does not utilize damages caps.

In 2005, the Georgia Legislature passed the Georgia Tort Reform act, which placed a number of caps on noneconomic damages for medical malpractice claims. The limits were:

  • $350,000 in actions against health care providers
  • $350,00 in actions against a medical facility
  • $700,000 in actions against multiple medical facilities
  • $1,050,000 in actions against multiple heal care providers and medical facilities

That statute was challenged in the case of Atlanta Oculoplatic Surgery, P.C. vs. Nestlehutt et al., Case No. S09A1432 (Ga. March 22, 2010). In its decision, the Georgia Supreme Court held that the damages cap was unconstitutional because it violated the constitutional right to trial by jury that is guaranteed in Georgia’s constitution. By imposing restrictions on the ability of a jury to award damages for non-economic factors, the court held that the statute nullified a jury’s findings of fact regarding damages, thereby undermining the jury’s basic functions. Therefore, as of the date of publication, there is no cap on damages of any kind in Georgia.

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If you’ve been injured in an accident, please contact the attorneys at Slappey & Sadd for a free consultation to discuss your case by calling 404.255.6677. We serve the entire state of Georgia, including Richmond County, Newton County, and Troup County.

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