by Dusty Hightower
The 2016 Legislative Session undoubtedly will see the Georgia General Assembly discuss a myriad of important issues. As an attorney and a State Representative with the privilege of representing over 50,000 Georgians, I take great interest in these issues and enjoy the opportunity to engage in discussions regarding major decision about legitimate issues.
However, there is one proposal – the so-called Patient Compensation Act – that raises red flags that I want those that I represent to be aware.
First and foremost, there is not a single doubt in my mind that the Patient Compensation Act is an unconstitutional violation of all Georgians’ Constitutional Right to Trial by Jury. The 7th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and Article I of the Constitution of the State of Georgia guarantee that all citizens have the absolute right to a jury of their peers, and this proposal runs directly afoul of our founding documents by revoking the right of Georgians to have their case heard in a court of law before their fellow citizens.
This legislative proposal would unconstitutionally replace our time-tested Civil Justice System, which relies on the common sense and impartial judgment of unbiased fellow citizens, with a burdensome, taxpayer-funded government bureaucracy. Under this scheme, a jury system would be eliminated in its entirety and replaced with an inherently-biased panel of political appointees from the medical profession, who alone would sit in judgment of the negligent conduct of their colleagues.
This would set a dangerous legal precedent, one that no other state has even seriously considered adopting. Allocating damages based on a one-size-fits-all fee schedule would place a predetermined dollar amount on each type of injury without taking into account any other factors of the case.
It is not difficult to illustrate why this concept would be problematic. Take, for example, two patients who both lost the use of their left hand as a result of the malpractice of their healthcare providers. One is a retiree and the other is a world renowned concert pianist. Certainly both deserve compensation for the loss of their hand. However, this fee schedule would assign them the exact same compensation, failing entirely to take into account vital relevant factors such as lost wages, future earnings, loss of enjoyment of life, pain and suffering and other such elements which lie peculiarly within the province of an unbiased jury to consider when awarding damages to victims of medical malpractice.
Make no mistake about it: this is socialized justice.
Perhaps just as troubling, the Patients’ Compensation Act would impose a government-regulated cap on the total amount of medical malpractice damages that may be awarded each year. Put simply, the proponents of this bill would set an arbitrary, predetermined maximum amount of compensation that would be available to all victims of medical malpractice for the entire year, and all fee schedule-based payouts would draw from this pool until it has exhausted its funds.
But, what happens if more patients are harmed in 2017 than in 2016? If the cap is reached in September, are those whose cases are heard in the final three months of the year left without access to compensation for their injuries? This is a nonsensical approach and demonstrates why one-size-fits-all justice is clearly irresponsible, unrealistic and short-sighted.
I encourage my colleagues and the citizens of our great state to join me in opposing this unprecedented, unconstitutional assault on the constitutionally-guaranteed rights of Georgia patients.
For more information on this proposed legislation or how to handle a patient compensation claim or other legal assistance, please contact either Dustin Hightower or Michael Miller at 770-999-1545.
Miller & Hightower, P.C., Attorneys at Law
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