The sky is the limit! This idiom rings true, except for plaintiffs in many states who dream of million-dollar punitive damage awards. Many states have statutorily capped punitive damage awards, despite their role as “quasi-criminal . . . private fines” to punish defendants for their wrong-doing, and to deter future similar conduct by others. Challenges to statutory caps have plagued both federal and state courts for decades.
In 2023, the Supreme Court of Georgia in Taylor v. Devereux Foundation, Inc. addressed whether O.C.G.A. § 51-12-5.1(g), Georgia’s statutory cap on punitive damages, violates the right to trial by jury, separation of powers, and equal protection provisions of the Georgia Constitution. Despite the compelling facts of the case—a fifteen-year-old suffering from mental health issues, a traumatic history, and a sexual assault—the court upheld the cap on punitive damages against the plaintiff’s constitutional challenges. In doing so, the court applied originalism and textualism, basing its decision on the original public meaning of the Georgia Constitution. After all, Taylor’s main constitutional argument required a thorough analysis of what rights Georgians had at the time of the enactment of the Georgia Constitution and the incorporation of English common law. Without adherence to our state’s guiding constitutional principles, Taylor easily could have buried centuries of fundamental legal and state constitutional concepts.
Ratajczak, Rachel N.
"A Run for Your Money: The Supreme Court of Georgia in Taylor v. Devereux Foundation, Inc. Upholds the Constitutionality of the Statutory Cap on Punitive Damages,"
Mercer Law Review: Vol. 75:
1, Article 24.
Available at: https://digitalcommons.law.mercer.edu/jour_mlr/vol75/iss1/24