Did you know there is underway right now an effort in the Georgia Senate to eliminate your Seventh Amendment right to a jury trial in medical malpractice cases? That’s right. A bill has been introduced (again), SB 86, that seeks to eliminate jury trials in medical malpractice claims. This bill was introduced by Senator Brandon Beach from Alpharetta, and this is, at least, the second time around for the bill. Last year the same bill was introduced and a coalition made up of odd bedfellows, the Georgia Trial Lawyers Association (GTLA) and the Medical Association of Georgia (MAG), opposed it and it died a slow death. Like Lazarus, it has now been resurrected.
Supporters of the bill make the wild claim that this bill would reduce so-called “defensive medicine” where doctors supposedly order unnecessary medical tests. I find such a claim outrageous and offensive. Doctors should, likewise, be offended by this strategy. I have talked with many doctors and taken many depositions of doctors. I have never found them to order what they know are unnecessary medical tests. For a doctor to order what he or she knows to be an unnecessary test (and get paid for it, by the way) would be fraudulent and would violate every ethical oath the physician has ever taken. So that cannot be the real issue with this piece of legislation.
Who is behind it? Not the doctors themselves, as evidenced by the opposition of MAG, the doctors’ professional association. Not the citizens of Georgia. There has been no rallying cry that doctors shouldn’t be held accountable as every other citizen may be with he or she commits negligence that results in injury to someone. There have been no “runaway” verdicts in Georgia, either. Statistics show that doctors and hospitals win almost 85%-90% of all medical malpractice trials in Georgia.
These are typical questions I often get from my clients in personal injury cases. The issue of apportionment comes up now in just about every case filed. Apportionment is the premise of Georgia law that says a jury may (but is not required to) apportion other people or entities, who are not even being sued in the lawsuit, a percentage of fault should the jury so choose. In a lawsuit, a defendant may claim some other person or company is to blame also and may ask the jury to consider assessing some percentage of fault or blame to that other person or company who is not named as a defendant in the lawsuit. This is known as “apportionment,” i.e., the jury apportions fault or blame to whoever they think is at fault. Apportionment came into Georgia jurisprudence in 2005 through the wisdom of Georgia Legislature, part of sweeping reforms then known as “tort reform.” Interestingly, nearly all of these so-called reforms have now been elimimated as unconstitutional by our appellate state courts, e.g., a cap on non-economic damages. That cap lasted only as long as it took for a case with a verdict higher than the Legislature-imposed cap to make its way to the Georgia Supreme Court, where the Court promptly held the cap on damages to violate the Georgia Constitution. That case is Atlanta Oculoplastic Surgery, P.C. v. Nestlehutt, 286 Ga. 731 (2010). Notice the Nestlehutt case was decided in 2010, so there were five years between the creation of that unconstitutional law and the undoing of it. There is no telling how many Georgia citizens were victims of malpractice during those intervening five years who didn’t receive justice.
When the law of apportionment first reared its ugly head, many practitioners and prognosticators, including mediators, declared certain types of cases “dead.” I can remember many of these folks pronounced the premature death of negligent security cases because the defendant apartment complex or defendant business would simply be able to blame the criminal defendant who perpetrated the crime and get off Scot free. Well, in the words of Coach Lee Corso, “Not so fast!” Fairly quickly after the implementation of apportionment, and after every defendant tried to blame everyone else in the world for their negligence, including a criminal, known or unknown, that myth was disproven. For example, in the Martin v. Six Flags Over Georgia case, in which a young man was severely beaten by a gang at Six Flags, for no reason other than the gang (some of whom were Six Flags employees) wanted to beat someone up, the jury returned a verdict of $35 Million. The Cobb County jury attributed to the gang members a total of 8% of that $35 million verdict, and split between the four of them, it came out to 2% per gang member/roughly $750,000 each. This means that Six Flags had to pay the remaining 92% totaling roughly $32 million dollars in damages.
Many of you know that texting while driving has been one of my pet peeves for awhile. Studies have shown that texting while driving makes a driver about as impaired as if he or she were intoxicated. Unfortunately, unlike drinking while driving, texting while driving is not (yet) illegal in the State of Georgia.
Check out House Bill 23, a proposed piece of legislation that would make it illegal to text while driving. I intend to work with the sponsors of this bill to help it move forward. It passed the Georgia House last session and now is sitting in the Georgia Senate. I will keep you updated on its progress during the Georgia General Assembly 2010 session.
There was a wonderful and truthful article in today’s Fulton County Daily Report, the “legal organ” of Fulton County, Georgia, that I share with you below. Georgia citizens should know that many of us plaintiff’s personal injury trial lawyers continue to fight for your rights to access to the courts to obtain justice. Enjoy.
Friday, March 06, 2009
GOP legal issues are losing steam