The final report of the senate study committee on “reducing Georgia’s cost of doing business” (SR 433) is completed and is far from consumer friendly. The committee was composed of nine appointees and six Senators. The recommendations ostensibly are, in the language of the document, intended to “…safeguard the integrity and balance of Georgia’s Civil Litigation System.” They recommend the following:
1. Punitive Damages Cap – Institute a $250,000 cap on punitive damages for product liability claims in order to level the playing field, and extend the benefits of the punitive damages cap to all industries, including job-creating product manufacturers.
2. Seatbelt Admissibility – Allow the failure to wear a seatbelt to be considered in civil actions, as evidence admissible on issues of failure to mitigate damages, assumption of risk, negligence, comparative negligence, contributory negligence, apportionment of fault, orcausation.
3. Phantom Damages (Truth in Damages) – Legislation should be introduced which clearly sets forth that the injured party is only entitled to the actual amount necessary to satisfy their medical providers for their treatment.
4. Premises Liability Reform-Legislation should be introduced to set a reasonable standard of liability when an unrelated third party commits an act against a person on the landowner’s property. The standard should require some overt act on the art of the landowner that directly causes the harm.
5. Pre-Dismissal Rule – Georgia law currently allows the plaintiff to dismiss a lawsuit in a case at any time before the first witness is sworn in at trial. Recommend adopting Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 41, which does not allow dismissal, unless with prejudice, once an answer is filed.
6. Proportionality in Discovery – Place reasonable limitations on document discovery based on projected cost of discovery, the total amount of the lawsuit and the needs of the case.
7. Jury Anchoring – Prohibit the ability of a plaintiff’s attorney from referencing a specific sum when arguing damages for pain and suffering.
8. Default Judgment Reform -Amend Georgia law to allow judges, at their discretion, to open a default judgment after the court term has expired.
9. Written Jury Instructions -Require judges to reduce jury instructions to writing.
10. Regulation of Loan Companies in Litigation – Introduce legislation that would protect plaintiffs by capping interest rates in litigation funding, for expenses on a case, medical treatment, or a direct loan to a plaintiff.
11. Mandatory Scheduling Orders – Require mandatory scheduling orders to be set in a timely manner.
12. Business Judgment Rule – Include Georgia non-profits, foundations, and cooperative officers and directors in the requirements and protections of the Business Judgment Rule, and establish that gross negligence is the standard applicable to these organization officials.
13. Direct Actions in Trucking Suits – Prohibit direct actions against a tortfeasor’s insurance company in trucking incidents.
14. Reducing Costs for Georgia’s Trucking Industry – Urge Congress to change federal regulatory law and allow commercial timber trucks to utilize the Federal Interstate Highway System with an indivisible load of no more than 80,000-pounds. Improve Georgia’s enforcement of weight limits and increase the current 5 percent gross weight variance to a 10 percent variance for trucks traveling within the state.
15. Statute of Repose – Legislation should be introduced to correct Georgia’s Statute of Repose to specifically define the notice standard for product liability cases and expressly enforce the 10 year statute of limitations.
16. Offer/Acceptance of Settlement Demands – Set up committee comprised of plaintiffs and defense lawyers to reach agreement on time limited demands. Procedures reviewed by the committee could include: 1) ensuring that the material terms listed in the law are the only material terms that can be included in the settlement; 2) applying the law to all personal injury settlements; 3) allowing for communication, both verbal and in writing, to discuss terms without it being considered a counter offer; and 3) tying the timeframe to satisfy the settlement to the date of the settlement demand.
17. Asbestos Trust Transparency – Introduce legislation to require asbestos plaintiffs’ lawyers to obtain prompt compensation from asbestos trusts and allow trust-related exposures and compensation to be considered by a jury in asbestos-related personal injury cases.
18. Trial Bifurcation – Amend current law to allow, upon the motion of one party, separate trials for the determination of liability and the determination of damages, if any.
19. Contingency Fee Caps – Recommend the legislature review contingency fee caps during the 2020 Legislative session, and set up a committee of both plaintiff and defense attorneys in order to derive collective wisdom to maximize returns for plaintiffs, while maintaining fair compensation for plaintiffs’ attorneys.
Some of these suggestions are nuanced changes that would not have a major impact. Others like #7, Jury Anchoring, prohibit a plaintiff’s attorney from asking for a specific amount dollar amount for the pain and suffering of their client at a trial. The Punitive Damages Cap, #1, would cap punitive damages for product liability claims to $250,000 no matter how grievous the infraction or how much damage was done.
The citizen members of the committee were largely made up of defense lawyers and the resulting report is extremely pro-defense. If this tort reform legislation becomes the law in Georgia it would significantly change the rules of the game in personal injury cases to the extreme detriment of plaintiffs. Conversely, it would benefit multi-billion dollar insurance companies, trucking companies, big businesses, and their highly paid lawyers.
The senators involved in this anti-consumer, anti-plaintiff power grab need to be VOTED OUT. Contact your state representative and tell them to fight against this effort to hand even more advantages to big insurance companies and their lawyers.
Here is a link to the recommendations along with a list of the committee members involved in this attempted assault on your rights: http://www.senate.ga.gov/committees/Documents/FINAL-REPORT-Senate-Study-Committee-on-Reducing-Georgia%27s-Cost-of-Doing-Business.pdf
If you don’t know your local state representative enter your address at this link: https://openstates.org/find_your_legislator/ Call, email, or better still – write a letter expressing your opinion.