WE’RE NO. 3! WE’RE NO. 3! SUPREME COURT OF GEORGIA RANKS THIRD IN “JUDICIAL HELLHOLES” SURVEY
The American Tort Reform Foundation– a lobbying organization representing insurance carriers, chemical manufacturers, tobacco companies, and other large industry interests -- just released its annual “Judicial Hellholes” report for 2021-2022. For Georgia litigants, the results are either great or terrible, depending on your vantage point. From the perspective of the ATRF, any verdict awarding pain and suffering to an injured plaintiff is a tragedy. ATRF’s efforts, along with other similar groups, have marketed “tort reform” as a good thing for the U.S. despite its robbing plaintiffs who were harmed of just compensation.
With that background, the ATRF’s report ranks Georgia—or, more specifically, the Supreme Court of Georgia (rude)— No. 3 on its list of Judicial Hellholes. As the report’s Executive Summary explains:
The significant deterioration of the Georgia civil justice system that took place in 2021 has propelled the “Peach State” to its highest-ever ranking on the Judicial Hellholes® list. The Georgia Supreme Court has developed a propensity to expand liability whenever given a chance and other courts around the state are following its lead.
The so-called “liability expanding” Supreme Court decisions the report cites include:
Alston Bird LLC v. Hatcher Management Holdings (holding that “damages may be reduced according to nonparty fault only in cases brought against multiple defendants”);
Geico Indemnity Co. v. Whiteside (holding that the failure by a permissive user of an insured vehicle to notify the vehicle’s insurer of a plaintiff’s lawsuit did not “bar liability as a matter of law for . . . [the insurer’s] negligent or bad faith failure-to-settle claim” under the facts presented).;
Roberts v. Unison Behavioral Health (holding that claimant’s ante litem notice which provided that she “was injured in a high-speed car accident and was seeking $1,000,000 for her loss” satisfied statute’s notice requirement); and
Cooper Tire & Rubber Co. v. McCall (affirming that “Georgia courts may exercise general personal jurisdiction over any out-of-state corporation that is ‘authorized to do or transact business in [the] state at the time a claim arises’”).
The report also cites an uptick in Georgia in “multi-million-dollar awards, usually for a person’s subjective and immeasurable pain and suffering.” Citing data from the American Transportation Research Institute, the report asserts “that while there were only four cases in 2006 where the awards exceeded $1 million, there were over 70 in 2013.” Further, “[f]rom 2010 to 2018, the average verdict for truck crashes jumped from $2.3 million to $22.3 million, a nearly 1,000% increase.”
ATRF obviously has a point of view, and one might disagree with its data, findings, and interpretations. But one thing is certain: insurers take notice of the Judicial Hellholes report, and its clear implication is that Georgia is an increasingly inhospitable venue for defendants in personal injury cases. That’s either welcome news or discouraging news, depending on your vantage point.
 For example, in Nebraska, tort reform limits “non-economic” damages in medical malpractice cases to $1.25 million. As demonstrated in Gourley v. Nebraska Medical Health Sys., 663 N.W. 43 (2003), Nebraska’s tort reform leaves its citizens uncompensated and in dire circumstances. There, a child was harmed during delivery, leaving him with brain damage and in need of lifelong special care that would cost approximately $5 million. The jury awarded over $5 million, but Nebraska’s tort reform statute, which was upheld by its Supreme Court, reduced that verdict to $1.25 million, leaving the parents to pay for the rest.