In a historic judgment, the Georgia Supreme Court has overthrown a rule capping pain and suffering damages in medical malpractice practice lawsuits at $350,000. According to the decision, capping damages like this violates a citizen's right to trial by jury.
The decision involves a medical malpractice lawsuit filed by Betty Nestlehutt, who suffered severe disfigurement and scarring after a facelift gone wrong at Atlanta Oculopastic Surgery. Nestlehutt had visited the center for surgery to treat wrinkles around her mouth and bags under the eyes. Soon after the procedure, however, Nestlehutt developed gaping sores on her face. Those sores have since left permanent scars. Nestlehutt sued, and a Fulton County jury awarded her $1.15 million in noneconomic damages, including $900,000 for pain and suffering.
In 2005, the Georgia legislative assembly passed sweeping tort reform laws that, its supporters said, would limit medical malpractice insurance premiums and encourage doctors to stay back in the state. The key provision of the reform laws was a cap on noneconomic damages in medical malpractice cases. These damages were capped at $350,000. Atlanta Oculoplastic Surgery appealed the verdict, based on the non economic damages cap, and was denied. The matter went to the Supreme Court, and Georgia's highest court has thrown out the cap too.
As an Atlanta medical malpractice lawyer, I have always believed that the cap is unconstitutional and a blatant violation of citizens' rights. I have been happy to see that the Georgia Supreme Court got this decision right.