Balance the Scales

Georgia Named a Judicial Hellhole

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Expansion of premises liability lands Georgia in unenviable first-time position

WASHINGTON – Georgia finds itself on the Judicial Hellholes list for the first time, coming in at No. 6, because of its courts’ dramatic expansion of premises liability, runaway jury verdicts and rising medical liability payouts.

The 2019 Judicial Hellholes report of the American Tort Reform Foundation finds that the lawsuit friendly legal climate in the state ranks as one of the worst in the country.

“Conditions in Georgia have rapidly deteriorated over the past few years to the point that the state has become a full-blown Judicial Hellhole,” American Tort Reform Foundation President Tiger Joyce said. “Following the Georgia Supreme Court’s lead, trial courts across the state issued several liability-expanding decisions.”

Georgia courts have expanded premises liability in numerous different cases. The precedent was set by the Georgia Supreme Court in an attack at a bus stop outside of a Six Flags amusement park which resulted in a $35 million dollar verdict. Six Flags was pegged with 92% of the damages while each of the four named attackers were responsible for a mere 2%. This year, a shooting in a Kroger’s parking lot resulted in an $81 million verdict handed down by a DeKalb County jury, with Kroger responsible for paying $69.6 million of the award. The two attackers were responsible for just 14% of the fault.

“Lawsuit abuse harms everyone by clogging the court system with meritless and frivolous cases,” Joyce said. “Litigation takes dollars away from researching and developing life-saving drugs, while driving up insurance costs, and driving away jobs.”

High-dollar jury verdicts now are the norm in Georgia. A Georgia trucking company was ordered to pay $280 million after a collision involved one of their semi-trucks striking a vehicle and killing its five passengers. The jury said they were frustrated the company did not apologize for the accident but the plaintiffs’ attorney excluded the mention of any apologies during the trial. The plaintiffs’ attorney also accused the company of putting a fatigued driver on the road but it was the driver’s first day back after a four-day vacation. Finally, local nightly news coverage contained “inflammatory inaccuracies” that impacted the jury.  

Medical liability payouts in Georgia also are on the rise, with multiple multi-million dollar payouts. The increase in payouts can be attributed to the Georgia Supreme Court striking down the limits on noneconomic, or “pain and suffering” damages that the legislature enacted.

“Our hope is for this designation to serve as a wake-up call for government officials in Georgia to stop the madness,” Joyce said. “Stop creating more ways for lawyers to sue businesses, stop wasting money in court, and stop contributing to job loss.”

The country’s Judicial Hellholes are:  

  1. Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas
  2. California
  3. New York City
  4. Louisiana
  5. St. Louis
  6. Georgia
  7. Illinois’s Cook, Madison and St. Clair Counties
  8. Oklahoma
  9. Minnesota Supreme Court and the Twin Cities
  10. New Jersey Legislature

The Judicial Hellholes report is released each December by the American Tort Reform Foundation to shine a light on abuses in the civil justice system and in state legislative bodies.

View the full report and read more details on Georgia’s designation at JudicialHellholes.org.  

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About the American Tort Reform Association (ATRA): The American Tort Reform Association, based in Washington, D.C., is the only national organization dedicated exclusively to tort and liability reform through public education and the enactment of legislation. Its members include nonprofit organizations and small and large companies, as well as trade, business and professional associations from the state and national level. The American Tort Reform Foundation is a sister organization dedicated primarily to research and public education.