ATLANTA — After years on the back burner in the General Assembly, tort reform promises to be front and center when Georgia lawmakers convene in January for the 2024 legislative session.
Gov. Brian Kemp signaled his intention to push for changes in the state’s civil justice system last month when he addressed the Georgia Chamber of Commerce’s annual Congressional Luncheon in Athens.
“The laws on our books make it too easy to bring frivolous lawsuits against Georgia business owners, which drives up the price of insurance and stops new, good-paying jobs from ever coming to communities that need them the most,” Kemp declared.
“Next legislative session, I look forward to working with members of the General Assembly on legislation that provides much needed relief to countless small businesses and job creators, reduces insurance premiums for hardworking Georgians and their families, and treats both plaintiffs and defendants.
Republicans have championed tort reform in the legislature for decades but were thwarted by Democrats back when they held majorities in both the state House and Senate. That changed in 2005 when the GOP captured control of both legislative chambers for the first time in modern history and passed a bill setting a $350,000 cap on non-economic damages in lawsuits.
But the state Supreme Court overturned the law in 2010. Since then, efforts to pass significant tort reform have failed to gain traction amid opposition from legislative Democrats and trial lawyers, who have argued changes to the system advocated by Republicans would strip away the rights of victims of car crashes and medical malpractice to their day in court.
That lack of progress continued this year when lawmakers supporting tort reform introduced seven bills. None made it to the floor of the House or Senate for a vote.
But Chris Clark, president and CEO of the Georgia Chamber, said several recent developments give him reason for optimism that the fortunes of tort reform may be about to change.
Clark pointed to the passage of major tort reform legislation in Florida earlier this year introduced by Ron DeSantis, that state’s governor and a Republican candidate for president. The bill expands immunity for property owners against lawsuits from criminals injured on their property and reduces the statute of limitations for general negligence cases from four years to two.