Georgia’s Legal Environment on a Consistent Downward Trend
James Magazine | March/April 2017 | Kade Cullefer
WHEN GEORGIANS THINK about what is good for their communities, the economy and quality of life, we’re proud to tout the state’s competitiveness, business friendly practices and innovation. Georgia has become a diverse global marketplace with a vibrant economy. Unfortunately, the state’s competitive global presence will diminish if we don’t address our unhealthy legal system. According to the U.S. Chamber’s Institute for Legal Reform, Georgia’s legal climate has ranked 31 out of 50 nationally— with a significant drop of seven places in three years. There are several reasons for Georgia’s poor ranking, with the primary one beginning and ending with personal injury attorneys. The business model is designed to maximize their profits by creating and taking advantage of a civil justice system that tilts unfairly in their favor. Georgia’s unhealthy legal environment is caused by uncertainty. Without clarity, businesses are unable to determine their needs— from hiring employees, to investing in the development of new products or improving services provided to consumers. The objective of personal injury attorneys is to create enormous uncertainty in the system because it directly benefits their financial interests. To level the legal playing field, the business community has created a new organization: Georgians for Lawsuit Reform (GLR). Established to improve Georgia’s increasingly expensive and ambiguous civil justice system, GLR will focus on streamlining the decision making ability of Georgia businesses, nonprofits, and public entities. GLR will also focus on ensuring a fair, balanced, and efficient civil justice system for all citizens; and improving Georgia’s competitiveness for small businesses, expanding companies, and new industries. The business community recognizes the inherent challenges that currently exist. Recently, settlement factories have begun to pop up all over Georgia simply to extract money from businesses. These firms sue parties to extract settlements quickly; if the party being sued decides to litigate, these firms often outsource the claims filed to other firms. In many cases, individuals who appear with attorneys and claim injuries on television, over the radio or on billboards have never been a client of the attorney.
Georgia is the No. 2 market for personal injury advertising in the country. Any Georgian who watches daytime television or listens to the radio is guaranteed to see or hear aggressive advertising strategies to solicit individuals to bring unnecessary litigation which inevitably clogs the courts and delays the timely administration of justice for all citizens. To make matters worse, many cases are brought without concern for potentially bankrupting small businesses no matter how ridiculous the claim. For example, a doughnut shop in Columbus was recently sued for something that had nothing to do with their products, services or premises— one of their employees who was driving one of the owners’ vehicles caused a motor vehicle accident resulting in no long term injuries to the plaintiff. The plaintiff in the case demonstrated medical expenses that totaled $49,000 and could have potentially totaled $100,000. Despite the actual expenses incurred, the jury returned a staggering verdict of $7 million against the doughnut shop placing it on the verge of bankruptcy. Confusing legal standards and an unfair legal climate are contributing to runaway verdicts like these being levied every day in Georgia. Furthermore, the American Tort Reform Association’s “Judicial Hellholes” report placed the Georgia Supreme Court on its Judicial Watch List. In recent years, there has been an expansion of civil liability, a lack of clear dismissal standards in litigation, eagerness to certify class actions and record breaking verdicts— all issues GLR aims to tackle. Georgia’s unhealthy legal environment doesn’t exclusively impact big business, it also impacts industries such as agriculture, transportation, education and innovation. This great state must have a legal infrastructure that is fair, balanced, and accessible. Georgians for Lawsuit Reform looks forward to leading the way in making our civil justice system one that makes all Georgians proud. For Georgia to maintain its top ranking as the No. 1 state to do business, we must aggressively reverse the current imbalance. Kade Cullefer is the executive director of Georgians for Lawsuit Reform