Clock runs out on business-friendly tort legislation for 2020 session

    Sen. Renee Unterman walks back to her desk after business-friendly tort legislation she staunchly opposed failed to gain enough votes to pass on Crossover Day Thursday. Ross Williams/Georgia Recorder

    A sweeping tort reform bill failed to survive the General Assembly’s Crossover Day, the final day of the 40-day legislative session for a bill to have a clear path to become law.

    Senate Bill 415 would have limited jury awards, and affected seat belt law, asbestos claims and more. Its sponsor, Sen. Steve Gooch said it is intended to balance the scales of justice. In pitching the bill to his Senate colleagues, Gooch referenced several major payouts companies made after crimes were committed on their property.

    Many of his colleagues were not convinced, including fellow Republican Sen. Renee Unterman of Buford, who said the bill calls for too many changes and did not include input from the trial lawyers it would affect.

    Gooch tabled the item Tuesday and tried to revive it Thursday, but the Senate voted against it 31 to 18.

    During the vote, which came shortly after Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan announced the session would be indefinitely suspended due to the growing concerns that the COVID-19 pandemic is spreading in Georgia, Unterman said trying to revive the bill was improper.

    “We are in the midst of a worldwide pandemic,” she said. “We are at 5 o’clock in the afternoon on Crossover Day. Is it a wise decision to have the most important bill of the session regarding tort reform put on our desk and ask to vote for – and there’s at least a dozen amendments up there?”

    Ross Williams
    Before joining the Georgia Recorder, Ross Williams covered local and state government for the Marietta Daily Journal.Williams' reporting took him from City Hall to homeless camps, from the offices of business executives to the living rooms of grieving parents. His work earned recognition from the Georgia Associated Press Media Editors and the Georgia Press Association, including beat reporting, business writing and non-deadline reporting. A native of Cobb County, Williams holds a bachelor’s degree in English from Atlanta's Oglethorpe University and a master’s in journalism from Northwestern University.