Noneconomic damages such as pain and suffering are not only difficult to calculate, but they can also be controversial. Because emotional trauma, loss of consortium, and other types of noneconomic damages are not quantifiable, defendants—and even members of the general public—find the amounts awarded to plaintiffs to be excessive.
Tort law is the civil proceedings that apply to people who have suffered harm by the negligent or unreasonable acts of another party, and Georgia is among many states in the nation that has enacted “tort reform” measures to place caps on noneconomic damages in certain cases. Damage caps are completely arbitrary figures that may sound high to some people because they are typically six-figure amounts, but such caps often prove to be woefully inadequate for people who have suffered injuries requiring millions of dollars in medical care and rehabilitation costs.
If you sustained catastrophic injuries or your loved one was killed as the result of another party’s negligence, you could be entitled to compensation for economic damages such as medical bills and lost wages as well as possible noneconomic damages and punitive damages. Contact Marcus A. Roberts & Associates for assistance filing a legal claim.
Atlanta personal injury attorney Marcus A. Roberts represents clients harmed in various types of negligent acts in Cobb County, Clayton County, Fulton County, DeKalb County, and Gwinnett County. Call 404-577-4444 to have our attorney review your case and answer all of your legal questions during a free, no obligation consultation.
When it comes to compensatory damages in personal injury cases, Georgia does not place any limit on economic damages. Georgia Code § 51-13-1, however, places maximum liability limits on noneconomic damages in medical malpractice actions.
Under this Statute, noneconomic damages are defined as “damages for physical and emotional pain, discomfort, anxiety, hardship, distress, suffering, inconvenience, physical impairment, mental anguish, disfigurement, loss of enjoyment of life, loss of society and companionship, loss of consortium, injury to reputation, and all other nonpecuniary losses of any kind or nature.” Noneconomic damages do not include past or future:
The total amount recoverable by a claimant for noneconomic damages in medical malpractice actions is limited to the following amounts:
Georgia Code § 51-13-1(e) also establishes that the aggregate amount of noneconomic damages recoverable under the situations listed above shall in no event exceed $1.05 million. It is important to note that the Supreme Court of Georgia ruled that Georgia Code § 51-13-1 is unconstitutional in its unanimous decision in Atlanta Oculoplastic Surgery, P.C. v. Nestlehutt, 2010 WL 1004996 (Ga. March 22, 2010) on March 22, 2010.
The trial court in that case held that Georgia Code § 51-13-1 violates the Georgia Constitution by encroaching on the right to a jury trial, the governmental separation of powers, and the right to equal protection. Because the Supreme Court held that the caps violated the right to trial by jury, it did not address the alternative arguments that the caps violate the separation of powers or the equal protection clause of the Georgia Constitution.
Under Georgia Code § 51-12-5.1(a), punitive damages (“synonymous with the terms ‘vindictive damages,’ ‘exemplary damages,’ and other descriptions of additional damages awarded because of aggravating circumstances in order to penalize, punish, or deter a defendant”) can only be awarded in tort actions “in which it is proven by clear and convincing evidence that the defendant’s actions showed willful misconduct, malice, fraud, wantonness, oppression, or that entire want of care which would raise the presumption of conscious indifference to consequences.” Georgia Code § 51-12-5.1(g) limits punitive damage awards in tort actions to a maximum of $250,000, although two exceptions do exist.
Georgia Code § 51-12-5.1(e)(1) provides that there is no limitation regarding the amount which may be awarded as punitive damages in a tort case in which the cause of action arises from products liability. Under this Statute, only one award of punitive damages can be recovered in a Georgia court from a defendant for any act or omission if the cause of action arises from products liability, regardless of the number of causes of action which may arise from such act or omission.
Georgia Code § 51-12-5.1(e)(2), however, establishes that 75 percent of any amounts awarded under this subsection as punitive damages—less a proportionate part of the costs of litigation, including reasonable attorney’s fees, as determined by the trial judge—must be paid into the treasury of the State through the Office of the State Treasurer.
Under Georgia Code § 51-12-5.1(f), if a defendant acted, or failed to act, with the specific intent to cause harm, or the defendant acted or failed to act while under the influence of alcohol, drugs other than lawfully prescribed drugs administered in accordance with prescription, or any intentionally consumed glue, aerosol, or other toxic vapor to that degree that his or her judgment is substantially impaired, in a tort case not arising from product liability there is no limitation regarding the amount which may be awarded as punitive damages against an active tortfeasor (the wrongdoer or person who commits a tort). The only defendant who can be liable for punitive damages is the active tortfeasor.
Hot Coffee | FAQs About Caps — Hot Coffee was a 2011 documentary examining tort reform that derived its title from the infamous case of Stella Liebeck, the Albuquerque woman who spilled coffee on herself and sued McDonald’s. The movie also touched on damage caps, on this sections of the film’s website you can find answers to frequently asked questions about caps on damages as well as links to public interest organizations. As the website notes, damage caps “take away the authority of judges and juries, who listen to the evidence in a case, to decide compensation based on each specific fact situation” and instead place “these decisions in the hands of politicians, abandoning this country’s history of individualized justice.”
Webster v. Boyett, 469 S.E.2d 459 (Ga. 1998) — The Supreme Court of Georgia granted the writ of certiorari in this case to determine whether evidence of a defendant’s similar acts or omissions is relevant in determining liability for punitive damages and, if so, the proper procedure to be followed in handling the admission of the evidence. The Court noted that if it were deciding this issue in the absence of the punitive damages statute, it would adhere to its decision in Moore v. Thompson, 255 Ga. 236, 336 S.E.2d 749 (1985), as the Court still agreed with that opinion that (1) a defendant’s prior and subsequent acts of driving under the influence are relevant to whether the defendant acted with conscious indifference to the consequences in again driving under the influence, (2) although relevant, the evidence is highly prejudicial to the issue of the defendant’s liability in the underlying negligence case, and (3) the trial court should try the issue of punitive damages separately from the issue of compensatory damages in a bifurcated DUI trial. “Consistent with that opinion, we note that it is not necessary to have a separate proceeding on the amount of punitive damages, as the statute requires, to avoid prejudice to the defendant,” the Court wrote. “Because the punitive damages statute precludes trial courts from separating compensatory and punitive damages claims in a bifurcated trial, we urge the Georgia General Assembly to reconsider the mandatory nature of the procedure established in OCGA § 51-12-5.1.”
Did you suffer severe injuries or was your loved one killed as the result of another party’s negligence? You will want to contact Marcus A. Roberts & Associates as soon as possible.
Marcus A. Roberts is an experienced personal injury lawyer in Atlanta who represents individuals in Clayton County, DeKalb County, Fulton County, Cobb County, and Gwinnett County. Call 404-577-4444 or fill out an online contact form to have our attorney provide a complete evaluation of your case during a free initial consultation.