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Georgia court overturns 'tort reform'

(9/23/2005)--Yesterday, the Superior Court of Gwinnett County in the State of Georgia overturned a key element of the recently-passed Georgia tort reform bill, handing the Chamber of Commerce a major set back.  The law, O.C.G.A. § 9-11-68, known as the "Offer of Settlement" rule, was held unconstitutional because it violated the right of access to the courts and could not be retroactively applied.

Association of Trial Lawyers of America (ATLA) President Ken Suggs applauded the court's decision saying, "so-called 'tort reforms' like this one are blatant attempts by big corporations to tilt the legal playing field in their favor and against average Americans.  This ruling goes to show that when lawmakers try to trample on people's constitutional rights and limit their access to the courthouse, justice ultimately prevails." 

"The Georgia Trial Lawyers Association is to be commended for its efforts to protect individual rights to hold wrongdoers accountable in a court of law," Suggs said.

In the case of Muenster v. Suh, the court agreed with the arguments presented in the amicus curiae brief submitted by the Georgia Trial Lawyers Association that the law was unconstitutional. 

The law that was overturned was also referred to as the "Winner Pays" law.  It required a party that prevailed in a lawsuit to obtain a judgment of more than 125% of the proposed settlement offer or face paying the opposing party's attorney fees - even if the party who turned down the settlement offer won the suit.  The case will likely be appealed to the Supreme Court of Georgia.

The ruling may be accessed at http://www.gtla.org/brief-bank/document.php?id=272.

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