In Liability Reform, Respecting Legislatures in Georgia, Texas

It’s reassuring to see two state supreme courts uphold the authority of the policy-making branch of government, the legislature, to make policy in the area of civil justice reform. The opinions from Georgia and Texas serve as an implicit rebuke to the Illinois Supreme Court and the ridiculous legal reasoning the majority used in February to strike down the Legislature’s enactment of medical liability reforms.

On Monday,  the Georgia Supreme Court upheld the provisions of the 2005 tort reform package that limited liability for emergency room medical personnel. The Insurance Journal reported on the court’s decision in Gliemmo v. Cousineau (opinion): “The 4-3 ruling turned aside complaints that the law is unconstitutional because it gives special liability exemption to emergency medical care providers, despite general laws governing negligence claims that apply to all other health care professionals. The Georgia Constitution prohibits special laws that are not applied uniformly throughout the state and when general laws on the same issue already exist.” The ER Statue limits liability for certain emergency health care providers unless there is “clear and convincing evidence” of gross negligence.

The Texas Supreme Court last Friday unanimously upheld the constitutionality of the state’s 10-year statute of repose on medical liability lawsuits. In the opinion in the case of Methodist Healthcare System of San Antonio et al. v. Rankin, Justice Don Willett wrote that the 2003 law was “a reasonable exercise of the Legislature’s police power to act in the interest of the general welfare.”

Attorney General Greg Abbott applauded the decision in a news release, citing the amicus brief his office had filed: “A decade is a long time to wait for a lawsuit to end – let alone for one to begin.” The brief further explained that “… our legal system does not remedy injuries in perpetuity. Evidence grows stale; eyewitnesses move; records become lost; and parties receive assurances that courts will not reexamine acts from the distant past that have long since faded from memory. The rule of law is served by clear rules – and that includes traditional rules governing the timing of suit.”

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