The Georgia Supreme Court has been named one of the country’s top “judicial hellholes,” according to a legal reform organization.
The American Tort Reform Foundation (ATRA) has released its annual Judicial Hellholes report, highlighting local and state jurisdictions it says abuse the court system. The Georgia Supreme Court is the third-worst hellhole in the nation, according to the ATRA. It is the highest-ranking yet for the state.
“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 ATRA said.
The state Supreme Court’s elimination of apportionment of fault in certain cases, expansion of bad faith liability for insurers and nuclear verdicts led to its position on the report.
The state’s plaintiff-friendly system hurts Georgia businesses, according to the ATRA. The trucking industry has been hit hardest by nuclear verdicts, according to the ATRA. Nuclear verdicts are jury awards that surpass $10 million. The verdicts have bankrupted truck carriers and led to higher insurance premiums for truckers.
The average verdict for truck crashes jumped from $2.3 million to $22.3 million from 2010 to 2018, a nearly 1,000% increase.
“It is really the smaller and mid-sized operations that feel the brunt of this. They have less financial flexibility,” said John McGlynn, director of transportation at Burns & Wilcox. “I think, ultimately, the ones that will not be able to afford the premiums will be the smaller, family-owned, 10-unit-and-less drivers. We will lose that history, that free spirit and independence which was the foundation of the trucking industry.”
The number of nuclear verdicts in Georgia has decreased in 2021, however, partially because of COVID-19 shutdowns. Still, a Rabun County jury awarded $200 million to the parents of a boy who died in a boating accident, the largest verdict in the county’s history. The jury found that Malibu Boats, the boat manufacturer, was 25% responsible for the accident by failing to warn of the risks and placed the other 75% of responsibility with the boy’s great uncle, who was operating the boat.
The ATRA said states should be concerned about how lawsuit abuse affects the economy.
“If the legislature focused on addressing the problem through enacting certain reforms, state residents and businesses would save over $3 billion,” the ATRA said. “These annual savings would support 38,209 additional jobs and $6.24 billion in increased economic activity. In addition, the state government would benefit from $291 million in increased tax revenues.”
The Georgia Legislature passed a measure that prevents health care facilities and providers and other businesses, including those that sell personal protective equipment, from being sued because of potential exposure to or transmission of COVID-19. The law excludes protections for businesses or health care providers that have been proven negligent or guilty of “willful and wanton misconduct, reckless infliction of harm, or intentional infliction of harm.”
The measure received support from the Georgia Trial Lawyers Association, Georgia Hospital Association and the Georgia Chamber of Commerce. It is set to expire in July.
California was named the ATRA’s top judicial hellhole, followed by New York.