Locking the Courthouse Doors in Georgia

By Harry T. Widmann

In 1776 denial of the right to trial by jury in civil cases was one of the colonists’ grievances against the King of England that provoked the Declaration of Independence and triggered our Revolutionary War. In 1787 this right to a civil jury trial was so highly valued that it was guaranteed by the 7th Amendment to our Constitution.

The civil jury trial is an integral part of our unique American democracy. Citizen jurors directly provide justice to their fellow citizens in open court. They also serve as a check and balance on the power of the judiciary.

The right to a civil jury trial is a precious right which Americans have treasured and utilized throughout our history.

Now, in Georgia, a legislator has introduced a bill that would eradicate jury trials in medical malpractice cases. In fact, this bill would remove medical malpractice cases from the courts system entirely and entrust them to bureaucrats. Administrative hearings would replace open trials where verdicts are rendered by citizen juries.

The proposed legislation very likely violates Georgia’s constitutional guaranty of civil jury trials, and, quite simply, is un-American. Proponents of the bill argue that it would reduce so called “defensive medicine” practices where doctors allegedly order unnecessary medical tests to protect themselves from lawsuits.

This makes no sense. Nationwide physicians prevail in at least 75% of jury trials on medical malpractice cases, yet defensive medicine supposedly persists unabated. Are the proponents suggesting that turning these cases over to bureaucrats would stack the deck in favor of physicians to such a degree that they would abandon defensive medicine? Would the proponents pervert justice to avoid the risk of a fair trial? Surely sounder minds will prevail to preserve the precious right to a civil jury trial and not sacrifice it at the altar of tortured logic.

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