The Georgia Supreme Court Case That Declared Medical Malpractice Damages Caps Unconstitutional

In 2010, the Georgia Supreme Court heard the appeal of Atlanta Oculoplastic Surgery, P.C. v. Nestlehutt et al., (Nestlehutt), from a trial court ruling that the Georgia statute that limits non-economic damages in medical malpractice cases was unconstitutional. The Georgia Supreme Court agreed with the trial court that the damages caps are unconstitutional because they encroach on the right to a jury. Juries, not legislatures, are supposed to determine the amount of damages a plaintiff should receive.

Nestlehutt involved a patient who suffered disfigurement from complications after plastic surgery on her face. The trial jury awarded a total verdict of $1,265,000, which included $115,000 for past and future medical expenses, $900,000 for the patient’s pain and suffering, and $250,000 for her husband’s loss of consortium claim. The trial court declared the damages caps statute unconstitutional and entered judgment for the full amount the jury awarded. The state Supreme Court affirmed.

Types of Damages in Medical Malpractice Cases in Georgia

There are three main categories of damages potentially available in medical malpractice actions in Georgia:

  • Economic damages: This category includes medical expenses, lost wages, decreased earning capacity, ongoing medical care and assistance, home and vehicle modifications, and other out-of-pocket expenses you incurred because of the medical malpractice. Economic damages are also called “financial losses.” There are no limits on these damages under Georgia law.
  • Non-economic damages: This category includes non-financial harm you suffered as a result of the medical malpractice, including physical pain, discomfort, and suffering, emotional pain and suffering, mental anguish, anxiety, distress, hardship, inconvenience, disfigurement, disability and physical impairment, loss of enjoyment of life, loss of consortium, loss of companionship, and other non-economic losses that arose from the malpractice.
  • Punitive damages: Punitive damages in Georgia are sometimes limited to $250,000. Judges assess punitive damages to punish a wrongdoer, not to compensate victims, which is why in some cases, most of the damages go to the state treasury, not to the injured person. Judges rarely award these damages in medical malpractice cases because there must be proof the defendant did not merely make a mistake, but rather acted with malice, fraud, intent, or with conscious disregard for the consequences of the defendant’s actions.

If you or a loved one has suffered harm from medical malpractice, the Law Office of Jason R. Schultz, PC, can help. Call 404-474-0804 to get a free consultation.

Jason R. Schultz
Helping Georgia area residents with car accident, medical malpractice, and personal injury claims since 1991.