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Cisson Mesh Case Tests Georgia’s Tort Reform Laws

Posted on May 3, 2017

It must have come as good news for Donna Cisson. 

In August 2013, after a four-week trial, the jury believed her injuries were caused by a Bard Avaulta transvaginal mesh permanently implanted in her pelvic area. 

The jury awarded her $250,000 in compensatory damages and $1,750,000 in punitive damages.

Punitive damages are designed to send a clear message to the company – stop your bad behavior!

Shortly after the compensation was announced, it became clear Ms. Cisson would never see the majority of the punitive damage award.

That’s because she is a resident of Georgia.

Enacted as part of the Tort Reform Act of 1987, Georgia’s statutes now require that 75% of any punitive damage award be turned over to the state of Georgia. 

That is something the jury couldn’t possibly have known.

Cisson’s lawyers argued that the money grab amounted to an unconstitutional taking. They lost that argument when the state of Georgia prevailed in defending the law’s constitutionality in the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Instead, the State Treasury of Georgia received $782,140.24, a nice windfall, minus the costs of litigation and attorney’s fees. 

In the last 30 years, a dozen state have enacted some form of split-recovery as the laws are known. Georgia has one of the highest split-recovery rates.

This is the first time in a decade that Georgia’s split-recovery laws have been enacted.

The only upside is that the plaintiff’s compensation for injury is not taxable, whereas punitive damages are.

Tort reform is pushed by industries such as asbestos and tobacco, insurance and pharmaceutical companies. Its intention is to curtail your right to have a civil court listen to your grievances and render a decision.

What person would face the rigors of trial if they would only receive about 10% of any punitive damage? 

At least on the surface, the enactment of tort reform is said to encourage both sides to settle their differences in some sort of post-verdict negotiation.   

That in itself is a slap in the face of our jury system which remedies civil injustice using 12 impartial citizens to listen to both sides of an argument and decide which position holds the most weight.   

Trying to modify the jury system and circumvent the wisdom of American citizens who listened to the evidence, undercuts the judicial system we rely on that is guaranteed by our Constitution.