Limits on awards for noneconomic damages are unconstitutional, a Georgia judge has ruled, because they:
- Are unfair to people who don’t earn a lot of money
- Fail to compensate people with devastating injuries, and
- Treat doctors differently from anyone else who is negligent.
The case involves a man who fell off a ladder and claims shoddy treatment at a local hospital rendered him quadriplegic. Fulton County Superior Court Judge Marvin S. Arrington handed down his decision during pretrial-motion proceedings.
Economic damages include the cost of care and treatment, as well as the loss of actual and future earnings. Compensation is limited by documented expenses and potential income. But noneconomic damages are assessed for intangibles, such as pain and suffering, and their value can only be approximated. Many states have placed limits on these awards to stem multi-million dollar verdicts. Georgia caps them at $350,000.
The system gives rich plaintiffs a financial advantage, Arrington argues. “The disabled manager of a hedge fund, a corporate CEO, an entertainer would be entitled to recover in excess of $100 million of lost earnings” if they suffered catastrophic injuries. “The limitation on damages falls on the poor, the unemployed, the elderly, the homemaker, and others with little earnings.”
Many states, including Georgia, have compensation caps only for medical malpractice. The distinction goes against the principle of equal protection, the judge writes. “One category of professional defendants has been singled out for special protection, with the result that their victims have been singled out for special disadvantage.”