Georgia ‘tort’ legislation to limit jury awards hits speed bump for 2020

By: - March 6, 2020 5:00 am

Legislation to make harder for juries to deliver big awards appears stalled as the General Assembly nears the end of its session. Business-backed groups pushed for more restrictive options in cases of negligence and malpractice. Jill Nolin/Georgia Recorder

Georgia business groups are backing legislation to limit jury awards, punitive damages and to rework the kinds of arguments allowed in court, but their efforts appear frustrated for this year. 

Businesses and others that support that legislation may need to resign themselves to another year of trying to rally support. 

Two bills are working through Senate committees, with significant opposition.  

And the House will take its own time to study the same questions, House Speaker David Ralston announced Wednesday.

Ralston, a Republican and one of the most powerful lawmakers at the Capitol, practices law in Blue Ridge. 

A new House Special Committee on Access to the Civil Justice System will hear House Bill 1089 by state Rep. Tom McCall, an Elberton Republican.

It’s similar to legislation approved by a state Senate committee Tuesday which would also put a $250,000 cap on damages awarded in product liability cases, and other priorities preferred by business groups and insurance companies.

Supporters of Senate Bill 415 to make so-called tort cases less lucrative say courts are treating businesses unfairly and that jackpot verdicts are driving up the cost of doing business. In turn that can drive up the price of insurance and other goods and services for Georgians, they argue  

The Senate version of the legislation is opposed by plaintiffs’ attorneys, who say the legislation unfairly shifts what’s now a level legal playing field.

Ralston says he wants time to hear more details. 

“Any legislation which may negatively impact our business climate and limit access to our civil justice system must be carefully considered,” Ralston said in a press release announcing the committee formation.

“This special committee will focus solely on this important topic and will take the time necessary to thoroughly review and discuss proposed legislation,” he said. 

Ralston has a history of setting up special committees on medical marijuana, transit, and health care access. All of those spent months and more working on bills that made it through the House.

Last year, the state Senate set up its own study committee to investigate the legal cost of doing business in Georgia. That committee is the source of the two Senate bills.

State Sen. Steve Gooch’s Senate Bill 415 would help people who think the civil justice system is making it unjustly hard to build their businesses, he told the Senate Judiciary Committee Thursday.

The committee rejected much of the Dahlonega Republican’s pitch and passed a shorter version which deals heavily with discovery rules. 

Time is running short for even popular legislation to become law in 2020. This year’s legislative calendar is already more than half complete and bills not approved by at least one chamber by Crossover Day next Thursday face a more difficult path to become law.

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Maggie Lee
Maggie Lee

Maggie Lee is a freelance reporter who's been covering Georgia and metro Atlanta government and politics since 2008. Her written work and data journalism has appeared in online and print outlets including The (Macon) Telegraph, Creative Loafing and SaportaReport.com.

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