Yesterday, the Georgia Supreme Court handed down two cases that will have a strong impact on tort reform in the state. Whether or not the citizens of Georgia will like the result may depend on which side of the courtroom they are on now, or in the future. The first case the Court decided involves the increased burden of proof on plaintiffs in medical malpractice suits against ER doctors, the second, a penalty for plaintiffs in tort suits who refuse good faith settlement offers.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports the first case was originally brought by Carol Gliemmo who went to a Columbus, Ga. hospital in 2007 and was seen by an ER doctor for severe head pain. She was sent home with pain reliever and subsequently suffered a brain hemorrhage that left her paralyzed. In a 4-3 decision, the Court majority found the legislature had a legitimate interest in controlling medical malpractice costs. Further, the Court held that the circumstances of emergency treatment require quick life or death decisions sometimes made without knowing the medical history of the patient. The law approved by the Court now requires plaintiffs to establish by "clear and convincing evidence" that an ER physician committed "gross negligence," which has been defined under Georgia law as the failure to exercise even a slight degree of care.
Michael Terry, who argued the case on behalf of Gliemmo and her husband, said the decision will make emergency room practice less safe. "An ER doctor is now the one professional who is free to be negligent without legal repercussion," he told The Journal-Constitution.
The second case involved a defamation suit by a salon owner against former Atlanta Falcon Chuck Smith, who made disparaging comments during a radio interview about the treatment his daughter received at the salon. The salon owner, Cheryl Baptiste, sued but turned down the $5,000 Smith offered to settle. After Smith prevailed in court, Baptiste was then (under the tort reform law) responsible for $50,000 in attorney's fees. The court upheld the result in a 5-2 decision. Smith's attorney called the law an "effective tool for both plaintiffs and defendants."
The Court will hear one more tort reform case regarding a $350,000 cap on jury awards in medical malpractice suits. That case will go before the court by the end of March.