Georgia Court Strikes Down Medical Malpractice Caps: Will Indiana Be Next?

bandaids.jpgThe Georgia Supreme Court this week shot down a key provision of the state’s 2005 tort reform laws capping noneconomic damages in medical malpractice lawsuits at $350,000. That comes just weeks after the Illinois Supreme Court declared that caps on medical malpractice damages violate separation of powers, by allowing lawmakers to interfere with judicial verdicts.

The Georgia Supreme Court decision involved an appeal by a hospital against a verdict awarding $1.15 million in non-economic damages to a patient. The patient had been severely scarred by a botched cosmetic surgery procedure performed at Atlanta Oculopasty Surgery. A jury awarded her $1.15 million in non-economic damages including pain and suffering, against a statutory cap of $350,000. The cap was part of sweeping tort reform laws passed in Georgia in 2005. The law’s proponents claimed these caps would reduce medical practice insurance premiums, and encourage more doctors to stay in the state.

Atlanta Oculopasty Surgery’s appeal of the verdict, and was denied. The matter reached the Supreme Court, and last week, Georgia’s highest court delivered its long-awaited verdict – Capping damages in this manner violates a citizen’s right to trial by jury. Obviously, the powerful medical lobby in Georgia is displeased with the verdict, and Indiana medical practice lawyers can expect more tussles on this issue in that state.

In February this year, the Illinois Supreme Court ruled that such caps were unconstitutional. Just as in Georgia, the Illinois legislature had passed laws in 2005, capping non-economic damages at $500,000 in the case of doctors as defendants, and $1 million in the case of hospitals as defendants. That’s two states in quick succession that have found medical malpractice caps to be unconstitutional. The Indiana medical malpractice attorneys at our firm are currently in the process of appealing Indiana’s medical practice caps.

In several states, patient rights have been violated as medical special interest groups have lobbied legislatures, asking for special immunities and protections for them. The bargaining chip in almost all states has been the same – Cap damages, or doctors will be forced to leave the state in droves to escape increasing medical malpractice insurance premiums.

Never mind that these premiums make up a small percentage of an average doctor’s earnings.

Never mind that states that have no medical malpractice caps in place, do not suffer from a drastic shortage of doctors.

Never mind that no other profession enjoys such protection from accountability.

Legislators would never agree to cap an airline’s damages if the negligence of its pilots or maintenance staff contributed to a crash. Why the special protection for Indiana’s doctors?

The Indiana medical malpractice lawyers at Miller Muller Mendelson and Kennedy represent injured victims of negligence by doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals, throughout the state of Indiana.