In a unanimous decision, the Georgia Supreme Court has just declared non-economic damages caps unconstitutional in medical malpractice cases. CBSAtlanta.com reports the following:
Monday, the Georgia Supreme Court ruled that a controversial law capping the amount of money an injured patient could recover from a negligent medical provider is unconstitutional. The 7-0 decision was written by Justice Hunstein. Senate Bill 3, enacted in 2005, stated that a victim of medical malpractice could be limited in the amount of damages they can receive from a jury verdict, even if the harm caused was catastrophic in nature.
Nestlehutt v. Atlanta Oculoplastic Surgery, P.C, from Fulton County State Court, highlighted how caps on damages fundamentally restrict the constitutional rights of those who have been harmed by a healthcare provider. The malpractice case was brought by plaintiff Betty Nestlehutt, who is represented by attorneys Adam Malone and Frank Ilardi.
This case is one of horrific physical injuries and pain and suffering. The tragic story of the victim, Betty Nestelhutt, is recounted in the article:
Betty Nestlehutt and her husband of more than 50 years worked together in their real estate business. Betty handled most of the client interaction for the firm, and she eventually noticed that many potential customers were going to younger agents. Concerned with the bags under her eyes and lines around her mouth, Betty Nestlehutt eventually decided to schedule a consultation with Dr. Harvey P. Cole of Atlanta Oculoplastic Surgery, P.C. Even though Betty was 71 at the time, Dr. Cole recommended a full facelift as well as a battery of other surgical procedures.
The combination of procedures was risky for someone of Betty’s age. The surgery severely impacted the blood flow to her face. After several weeks, the skin on Betty Nestlehutt’s face began to die and fall off.
“Betty Nestlehutt was the face of her real estate business,” Malone said. “Her face was so horrifically disfigured that she was no longer able to even leave her house. The pain she experienced over a long period of time is difficult to comprehend. Photographs of her disfigurement are too gruesome for public distribution. The damage is permanent.”
The case outcome has also just been announced on the website for GeorgiaWatch, a consumer advocacy organization:
The case was heard in Fulton State Court before a jury of 12 citizens. After hearing the testimony and seeing the evidence, they returned a verdict in favor of the Nestlehutts. The jury granted recovery for past and future medical expenses and concluded that the severe impact to Betty Nestlehutt’s quality of life warranted $900,000 in “non-economic” damages. However, this was more than the $350,000 cap on noneconomic damages in the 2005 law, which overrides the judgment of a jury that has been presented with the facts.
Judge Diane Bessen ruled that the statute capping a jury’s verdict was unconstitutional. The decision was appealed by the defendants to the Georgia Supreme Court. After hearing arguments in the fall of 2009, the Supreme Court agreed with Judge Bessen and ruled the statute unconstitutional.
We applaud Mr. Malone and Mr. Ilardi’s efforts in this case as well as the Court’s ruling.
UPDATE: In response to this ruling, Dr. J. James Rohack, AMA President, posted his reaction on the AMA’s website.
“The action puts Georgia’s patients at risk for the severe access problems suffered prior to 2005 when the state’s unrestrained legal system pushed premiums to record highs and forced physicians to limit services, retire early, or move to other states where liability premiums were more stable.”
“The AMA continues to vigorously support strong, proven medical liability reforms at the state and federal levels to keep physicians caring for patients, while still allowing patients their day in court.”
Who is he kidding? By putting unreasonable ‘caps’ on damages and creating standards such as “gross negligence” for cases against emergency room healthcare providers, this goes to “allowing patients their day in court”? I’m sure the AMA is driven by altruistic motives to make such a ridiculous statement.