Georgia attorney William Custer at Senate committee meeting

William Custer, an attorney for Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner LLP, told Georgia's Senate Study Committee on Reducing Georgia’s Cost of Doing Business Thursday, Aug. 29 that there needs to be a cap on noneconomic damages in civil cases.

 

Four business attorneys told members of a Georgia Senate committee focused on the cost of doing business in the state that capping monetary legal penalties and liability for business owners in civil cases could lead to a boost in the state's economy.

William Custer, an attorney for Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner LLP who specializes in commercial litigation, said the biggest issue he has found within Georgia’s civil justice system is with negligence security cases. Business owners find themselves taking on most of the responsibility for crimes that lead to lawsuits.

“Every business owner, every landowner in Georgia has an obligation to keep their business and premises safe. I am not arguing that we change that,” Custer told the Senate Study Committee on Reducing Georgia’s Cost of Doing Business Thursday.

“But we are talking about negligence cases that are not actions of the landowner. We’re talking about third parties who come on or near the landowner or business owner’s property and commit a crime against a third party, frequently a customer.”

Victims are seeking more monetary damages than ever before, Custer said. There needs to be a cap on noneconomic damages, he added.

Cary Silverman of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Tiger Joyce of the American Tort Reform Association, and Jake Daly of the Georgia Defense Lawyers Association all agreed.

Silverman presented the committee of senators, other attorneys and business people with a list of cases in recent years where victims were awarded millions of dollars and, at times, billions of dollars for noneconomic reasons.

A Fulton County jury in March awarded $43 million to an Alabama man after he was shot multiple times in the parking lot of an Atlanta CVS Pharmacy. James Carmichael met another man in the store’s parking lot to discuss the sale of an iPad when a third man started shooting at him.

Carmichael’s attorneys argued that the store failed to properly secure the property even though crime was a recurring issue in the area. The jury found that the incident was only 5 percent Carmichael’s fault.

Georgia tort costs, according to the latest numbers, were $13.4 billion in 2016, which is above the national average, according to Silverman.

Lawmakers need to block plaintiffs in lawsuits from using owners’ wealth as evidence in their cases, Silverman said. They also need to stop lawyers from using high damage requests as anchors for payout, and allow juries to evaluate the real cost of medical bills as opposed to what he called “phantom” damages. 

Other presenters echoed some of the same recommendations. They asked the committee to consider reducing the cost of obtaining evidence for cases and making the use of seat belts admissible in accident cases. 

Silverman also asked the committee to consider stopping misleading lawsuit advertising that calls on the public to sue companies, claiming they jeopardize public health.

The 15-member committee will meet again on Sept. 26 in Perry, Georgia and plan to present their findings by Dec. 1. 

Staff Reporter

Nyamekye Daniel has been a journalist for three years. She was the managing editor for the South Florida Media Network and a staff writer for The Miami Times. Daniel's work has also appeared in the Sun-Sentinel, Miami Herald and The New York Times.