On March 15, 2023, the Georgia Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the state’s $250,000 punitive damages cap in a closely watched case.
The appeal stemmed from a jury’s award of $50 million in punitive damages to the estate of Tia McGee, who was sexually assaulted as a teen at a behavioral health facility. McGee was 15 at the time of the assault. After a jury trial in November 2019, she was awarded $10 million in compensatory damages, finding the Devereux Foundation and Jimmy Singleterry (the assailant) each 50% to blame, as well as $2.1 million in attorney fees, nearly $300,000 in litigation costs, and the punitive damages in question. McGee died in 2020.
Attorneys representing Jo-Ann Taylor, the executor of McGee’s estate, argued that the state’s legislative punitive damages cap constitutionally violates the right to a jury trial enshrined in the Georgia constitution.
Ultimately, a majority of the court agreed with the Devereux Foundation that the punitive damages cap was constitutional. The court held that Taylor failed to show that juries could award damages based on proving an “entire want of care,” rather than a claim alleging the defendant engaged in intentional misconduct, when Georgia enshrined the right to trial by jury in its constitution in 1798.
The majority also rejected the argument that the punitive damages cap violates separation of powers or equal protection guarantees in the state constitution.
The cases are Jo-Ann Taylor, Executor v. the Devereux Foundation Inc. et al., case number S22A1060, and the Devereux Foundation Inc. et al. v. Jo-Ann Taylor, Executor, case number S22X1061, in the Supreme Court of Georgia.
The attorneys at Chilivis Grubman have extensive litigation experience in federal and state courts in Georgia. If you need assistance with such a matter, please contact us today.