Friday, June 13, 2008

Georgia Watch - Georgia State Court Annual Report

The Georgia Court Watch issued its annual report on appellate courts.

ATLANTA – Court Watch today released its first annual report analyzing consumer-related decisions issued by the Supreme Court of Georgia and the Georgia Court of Appeals. Court Watch is a project of Georgia Watch, a nonprofit and nonpartisan group committed to strengthening the rights of consumers in Georgia .

The “2007 Annual Report” identifies and profiles the most noteworthy consumer-related decisions released by the appellate courts throughout the year, and identifies emerging trends.

“Many of the decisions reached by the state Supreme Court and Court of Appeals significantly impact the rights that consumers have under law,” said Georgia Watch Executive Director Allison Wall. “Georgia Watch launched this project to provide ongoing, thoughtful, fact-based analysis.”

Notable consumer cases discussed include:

* Glenn v. State, a case in which the court upheld Georgia ’s Payday Lending Law. Two individuals convicted of issuing payday loans argued that the statewide ban on payday lending was unconstitutionally vague and did not specifically prohibit the schemes they utilized in issuing loans, such as a “sales-leaseback” of a cell phone or coffee maker. The lenders also claimed they were not subject to the ban because they were located out-of-state.

* Kaminer v. Canas, in which the court upheld the two-year statute of limitations for medical misdiagnosis, regardless of futures failures to properly diagnosis, even in the presence of a patient’s additional or significantly worsened symptoms. In Georgia , a claim must be filed within two years of the date of the first misdiagnosis, whether or not the patient knows they have been misdiagnosed. In Kaminer v. Canas, the patient unsuccessfully argued that repeated misdiagnosis over a decade of treatment by multiple medical providers should have restarted the statute of limitations.

* Dees v. Logan, in which the court established that insurance companies are prohibited from creating offset clauses to reduce the amount owed to drivers who purchased uninsured motorist (UM) insurance. Offsets deny policyholders benefits already purchased that are needed to cover medical and property damage resulting from an accident with an underinsured driver. The court ruled that insurance policies containing offsets for personal injury benefits are in conflict with Georgia ’s Uninsured Motorist Act. This year, the Georgia General Assembly responded to this decision by passing Senate Bill 276, which expressly permits insurance carriers to use offsets for workers’ compensation benefits, effectively overturning part of this decision. SB 276 also expanded drivers’ access to UM coverage.

“Generally speaking, Georgia laws are not consumer-friendly,” Wall said. “As this report demonstrates, our courts generally follow those laws unless they explicitly run afoul of the state constitution.”

The Court Watch Fellowship is a collaborative effort of the 2007 Court Watch Fellowship recipient and primary researcher, Nathan Gaffney, and the Court Watch Advisory Committee, which includes three members of the Executive Committee of the State Bar of Georgia Board of Governors.

“Any contention that our appellate judges are activists who stray from the letter of the law is not supported by these decisions concerning consumer rights,” said Tom Stubbs, Court Watch Advisory Committee member. “Indeed, even when statutes can reasonably be interpreted in different ways, our courts have a pronounced bent not to interpret them so as to enhance protection of consumers in our state.”