In the Supreme Court of Georgia
Decided: March 22, 2010
S09A1432. ATLANTA OCULOPLASTIC SURGERY, P.C. v.
NESTLEHUTT et al.
HUNSTEIN, Chief Justice.
This case requires us to assess the constitutionality of OCGA § 51-13-1,
which limits awards of noneconomic damages in medical malpractice cases to
a predetermined amount. The trial court held that the statute violates the
Georgia Constitution by encroaching on the right to a jury trial, the
governmental separation of powers, and the right to equal protection. Based on
our review of the record and the applicable law, we find that the noneconomic
damages capsin OCGA § 51-13-1 violate the constitutional right to trial by jury,
and we therefore affirm.
In January 2006, Harvey P. Cole, M.D., of Atlanta Oculoplastic Surgery,
d/b/a Oculus, performed CO laser resurfacing and a full facelift on appellee
We express no opinion as to subsection (f) of OCGA § 51-13-1, which
provides for periodic payment of future damages awards of $350,000 or more in
medical malpractice actions.
Betty Nestlehutt. In the weeks after the surgery, complications arose, resulting
in Nestlehutt’s permanent disfigurement. Nestlehutt, along with her husband,
sued Oculus for medical malpractice. The case proceeded to trial, ending in a
mistrial. On retrial, the jury returned a verdict of $1,265,000, comprised of
$115,000 for past and future medical expenses; $900,000 in noneconomic
damages for Ms. Nestlehutt’s pain and suffering; and $250,000 for Mr.
Nestlehutt’sloss ofconsortium. Appellees then moved to have OCGA § 51-13-
1, which would have reduced the jury’s noneconomic damages award by
$800,000 to the statutory limit of $350,000, declared unconstitutional. The trial
court granted the motion and thereupon entered judgment for appellees in the
full amount awarded by the jury. Oculus moved for a new trial, which was
denied, and this appeal ensued.
1. In relevant part, OCGA § 51-13-1 provides,
In any verdict returned or judgment entered in a medical
malpractice action, including an action for wrongful death, against
one or more health care providers, the total amount recoverable by
a claimant for noneconomic damages in such action shall be limited
to an amount not to exceed $350,000.00, regardless of the number
of defendant health care providers against whom the claim is More »