Hawkins Parnell & Young Presents on Recent Trends in Georgia Litigation and Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic
May 13, 2020 (Atlanta, GA) – Hawkins Parnell & Young provided a virtual training session to an insurance client on the latest trends of Georgia's legislative landscape, including anticipated changes based on the COVID-19 pandemic. The presentation was by senior partners Matt Barr, Evelyn Davis, and Kate Whitlock.
OVERVIEW OF RECENT TRENDS IN GEORGIA LITIGATION AND IMPACT OF THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC
Pre-Shutdown Trends In Georgia Litigation
- Runaway Verdicts
- Apportionment of Fault To Nonparties
- ATRF Names Georgia a Top 10 “Judicial Hellhole”
- Punitives Damages Cap Under Attack
Runaway Verdicts in Georgia
Carmichael v. CVS - $43,000,000 in Fulton County (March 2019)
- Plaintiff was a 54 year old white male.
- Shot in the stomach by unidentified man inside his car in parking lot. Plaintiff had not entered the store and was there to sell an iPad to an unknown man.
- After he met a man to sell an iPad another man immediately got inside car and tried to rob him. The Plaintiff tried to shoot but missed and was shot by the man.
- Medical bills were $725,000. Presuit demand of $300,000 was rejected.
- Jury assigned ZERO percent fault to the shooter and only 5 percent to Plaintiff.
Monroe v. Lane’s Equipment - $26,100,000 in Whitfield County (May 2019)
- Plaintiff struck by pickup driver while directing traffic for tractor-trailer.
- Driver of tractor did not wait for Plaintiff to get into position.
- Pickup driver blamed tractor driver for failing to yield to him.
- Plaintiff sustained several fractures and a left lower leg amputation, with $411,000 in medical bills.
- Limits demand for $1 million was rejected, with less than the medical bills offered.
- Whitfield County (Dalton) has long been considered a conservative venue.
Taylor v. Kroger - $69,600,000 in Dekalb County (April 2019)
- Plaintiff was a 26 year old Navy veteran.
- Plaintiff was shot and robbed in a parking lot.
- Medical bills were $4.5 million.
- Kroger’s offer before trial was $1 million, increased to $12 million during trial.
- The lowest demand was $30 million.
- Only 14 percent fault apportioned to shooters.
Madere v. Schnitzer Southeast - $280,000,000 in Muscogee County (August 2019)
- Grandmother and four others were killed when a Schnitzer truck hit their car head on.
- No evidence of skid marks for the truck (only for the SUV the decedents were in).
- Plaintiff argued the driver was fatigued, having only slept 5 hours the night before, and fell asleep.
- The driver of the truck claimed that he swerved to avoid a dog.
- The jury deliberated for only 45 minutes.
For the first time ever, Georgia was included in the American Tort Reform Foundation’s Judicial Hellholes rankings (#6) for 2019/2020.
Georgia is currently ranked #6, behind only (1) Philadelphia, (2) California, (3) New York City, (4) Louisiana, and (5) St. Louis.
Georgia’s Punitive Damages Cap Is Under Attack
- For over 20 years, Georgia has had a punitive damages cap of $250,000 per Plaintiff in certain cases. The statute has withstood many constitutional challenges over the years.
- Due to some recent decisions in other states, the Plaintiff’s bar in Georgia is once again focusing on the cap and arguing that it should be declared unconstitutional. Several cases are either on appeal currently or headed for an appeal.
Georgia’s Punitive Damages Cap
- OCGA 51-12-5.1- Punitive damages are capped at $250,000 per Plaintiff, except where (1) the action arises from product liability, (2) the defendant is found to have acted or failed to act with specific intent to cause harm, or (3) the defendant acted or failed to act under the influence of alcohol or illegal drugs.
- Plaintiffs are asking that the statute be struck down, like the noneconomic damages cap in medical cases was a few years ago:
- (1) Right to jury trial
- (2) Equal protection
Important Recent Appellate Decisions
- COLLINS et al. v. ATHENS ORTHOPEDIC CLINIC, P.A.: A claim is legally cognizable if Plaintiff fears there may be damage in the future.
- SRM GROUP, INC. v. TRAVELERS PROPERTY CASUALTY CO. OF AMERICA: Defendant asserting an independent counterclaim may seek attorney’s fees and litigation expenses under OCGA § 13-6-11.
- REID V. MORRIS ET AL.: Whether the law allows a man who was injured in a car crash caused by a drunk driver to sue not only the driver for punitive damages, but also the man who entrusted his car to the drunk driver.
- ATLANTA WOMEN’S SPECIALISTS, LLC ET AL. V. TRABUE ET AL.: Can damages be apportioned if Defendant has not complied with strict requirements of the apportionment statute.
- FEDERAL DEPOSIT INSURANCE CORPORATION v. LOUDERMILK: Joint & several liability still applies and there is no apportionment if there is conspiracy other injury that cannot be separated.
Current Impact of the Virus on Litigation in Georgia
- Courts shut down for non-essential matters
- Judicial Stay Orders (just extended to June 13th)
- Trials and hearings cancelled/postponed.
- Federal Court filings consistent but terminations much lower (March 2020 vs. March 2018 & March 2019).
- Depositions and mediations postponed due to preference to take them in person.
Uncertain Future Impact of the Virus
- When will trials resume?
- Once matters resume, will postponed matters be given priority?
- Plaintiff attorney pressure on Courts to resume as soon as possible.
- Remote technologies will be essential.
Anticipated Impact of Economic Slowdown
- Unemployment has skyrocketed.
- Litigants (and Plaintiff attorneys) will need money more than ever.
- Number of claims will likely rise.
- Some more likely to sue than they would have been in a good economy.
- New types of litigation:
- Claims against employers for exposure
- Third party claims for exposure
- Business interruption