Letter to Editor: ‘Patient Injury Act’ unconstitutional

In Tuesday’s edition of Georgia Health News, (“Commentary: Replace Georgia tort system”), Dr. Henry Goodwin writes about a proposal currently before the Georgia General Assembly that would take away Georgia citizens’ constitutional right to trial by jury when they have been harmed through the negligence of their health care provider. This proposal, he insists, will reduce health care costs and increase access to justice for all Georgians. However, if you think that this sounds too good to be true, then you would be correct.

This proposal, known as the “Patient Injury Act,” would strip Georgia’s medical malpractice victims of the constitutional right to seek justice in the courtroom before a jury of fellow citizens, and replace our time-tested civil justice system with a burdensome, taxpayer-funded government bureaucracy.

In slamming the courthouse door on Georgia’s justice-seeking citizens, the bill runs afoul of our most sacred founding document –– the Constitution. As an attorney who has spent over three decades in the courtroom advocating on behalf of, and seeking justice for, victims of medical malpractice, I am confident that our Supreme Court would rule that the patient compensation scheme is an unconstitutional violation of our inviolate right to trial by jury.

To objective observers, it is equally clear that creating a new government-run bureaucracy will not be effective in holding substandard health care providers accountable for the harm they do to Georgia patients. Contrary to the claims of the proponents of SB 141, this legislation would not have a deterrent effect on health care costs in our state. Instead, this bill would only serve to misappropriate taxpayer dollars in order to shield dangerous health care providers from answering for their harmful practices. And how would they pay for the additional costs of this new layer of government? By taxing doctors, dentists, nurses and hospitals to the tune of $29.5 million each and every year.

For the victims of medical malpractice and their families that I have had the honor of representing, the courtroom is often the only opportunity that they will have to seek justice and compensation for the harm done to them. Replacing our constitutionally guaranteed jury system with a big government solution that creates yet another tax on our health care providers and places victims at the mercy of bureaucrats is the height of irresponsible governance. Georgians certainly deserve better.

Sam G. Nicholson

Sam G. Nicholson is an attorney from Augusta and a partner at Nicholson Revell LLP