For The Record

Georgia GOP senators rally around business-friendly court legislation

By: - February 28, 2020 5:09 am

Dahlonega Republican state Sen. Steve Gooch held a press conference Wednesday at the Capitol to push for tort legislation, that would make it harder for victims of negligence to sue and would cap punitive damages in product liability cases at $250,000. Maggie Lee/Georgia Recorder

A group of Georgia state senators Thursday spoke in favor of legislation meant to drive down costs that negligent companies or doctors sometimes incur in court, including a provision to limit Georgia’s uncapped punitive damages in product liability cases to $250,000.

“Georgia’s reputation has been badly tarnished in recent years” by its civil justice system, said state Sen. Steve Gooch, a Dahlonega Republcan.

He was speaking at the state Capitol, surrounded by mostly Republican colleagues plus dozens of people  representing professions that find themselves the target of lawsuits, from truck drivers to doctors to insurers to home builders.

Georgia’s courts tolerate lawsuit abuse, expanding liability for businesses and “nuclear or runaway” verdicts, Gooch said.

But Georgia’s trial lawyers, who often represent plaintiffs, have kept a wary eye on these tort proposals since a state Senate study committee started discussions last year.

“Georgia’s fair and balanced court system is just one of the many factors that have contributed to our continued status as the best state in which to do business,” the Georgia Trial Lawyers Association said in an emailed statement.

Together, Gooch’s Senate bills 395 and 415 make several business-friendly changes to how companies and plaintiffs are treated in court and what kind of information juries can see, for example.

Juries would be allowed to know if an injured driver was wearing a seatbelt. Or the lower price that insurance actually paid for a botched medical procedure, instead of the higher sticker price.

Now, Georgia law doesn’t limit the amount courts can order companies to pay in punitive damages in product liability cases. Senate Bill 415 strikes out that language and would such cases subject to a $250,000 award cap. 

The Legislature tried to create a $250,000 cap before, but the Supreme Court of Georgia struck it down in 2005.

Senate Bill 415 got a subcommittee hearing on Wednesday, but no vote was taken. Gooch said he expects amendments to his legislation.

The trial lawyers association says it wants constructive conversations with senators about the “harmful effects of implementing such sweeping changes to an established and effective judicial system.”

 

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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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