Ga. Supreme Court Says That Caps on Recovery for Pain and Suffering in Medical Malpractice Cases Unconstitutional

Before this week, suing a doctor for medical malpractice meant that you could only recover $350,000 total for your pain and suffering.  

But now, the Georgia Supreme Court has said that this is a violation of the malpractice victim's constitutional right to a jury trial.

On Monday of this week, the Georgia Supreme Court ruled to strike down a law that capped the amount of money a person could receive for pain and suffering in Medical Malpractice cases.  The Court found that the money limit was a violation of the malpractice victim's constitutional right to a trial by jury.

Generally, when suing for medical malpractice, one category of damages that a victim receives are called compensatory damages, damages that compensate a victim for their injuries.  These damages include economic damages, i.e. things that you can put an exact price tag on (like the cost of medical care, value of lost income, etc.), but a victim can also receive non-economic damages, which do not have an exact dollar amount, like pain and suffering.  For obvious reasons, no one can really put an exact dollar amount on pain and suffering damages, so the decision is left to "the enlightened conscious of a responsible jury."

After some rather high jury awards for pain and suffering, and fearing the effect on insurance premiums, the Georgia General Assembly limited damages for pain and suffering to a max of $350,000 for all malpractice cases.  But this cap will be no more...

The case, Atlanta Oculoplastic Surgery v. Nestlehutt, involved a woman who had her face permanently disfigured after a face-lift operation went very wrong.  The jury awarded her $900,000 for her pain and suffering, a number that would have been reduced to $350,000 under the old law, but the Supreme Court let the judgment stand, claiming that lowering the amount would deprive her of her Constitutional right to a jury trial and in effect, the right to let the jury decide the value case.

As for now, the Supreme Court of Georgia has said that this state will protect the rights of medical patients to allow the "enlightened conscious" of a jury decide the value of the plaintiff's pain and suffering in a medical malpractice case.