ATHENS, Ga. - Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp said Tuesday that he wants to make it harder for people to file lawsuits and win big legal judgments, arguing that suits are driving up insurance and business costs.
"The laws on our books make it too easy to bring frivolous lawsuits against Georgia business owners which drive up the price of insurance and stop new, good-paying jobs from ever coming to communities that need them the most," Kemp told the Georgia of Chamber of Commerce during a speech in Athens.
He argued that the state’s high auto insurance rates were among the harms.
Kemp’s remarks brought a partisan tone to the annual chamber event, even as Democratic Sen. Jon Ossoff argued that a bipartisan approach was best for Georgia.
Sen. Jon Ossoff
"Let’s work together," Ossoff exhorted the largely Republican business group. "Let’s put politics aside."
The chamber has long supported limits on lawsuits, but their efforts have stalled in the legislature in recent years. Kemp’s speech signals that he will back the chamber, which endorsed his 2022 reelection.
Georgia lawmakers capped noneconomic damages including pain and suffering in a 2005 tort reform law, but the state Supreme Court overturned such caps as unconstitutional in 2010.
The announcement sets up a major fight when the General Assembly convenes in 2024. This year, Kemp pushed into law almost all of the agenda he sought when he was reelected, leaving him able to launch new initiatives.
The decision lines up with Kemp’s background as a property developer. Owners of commercial properties and apartment complexes have been some of the biggest supporters of lawsuit limits. Another big backer is the trucking industry. Kemp called the burdens on those industries "unacceptable."
"Local trucking companies either can’t afford the insurance they’re offered, or can’t find a carrier altogether, and business owners live in fear of being sued for ridiculous claims on their property," Kemp said.
Kemp said his call to "level the playing field in our courtrooms" will cut insurance premiums and help create more jobs.
Linking the issue to auto insurance rates could help. Georgia had the eighth most expensive average auto insurance premiums in 2020, according to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, with an average premium of 1,254.83. Rates were the central issue in the 2020 election for state insurance commissioner.
It’s unclear what might emerge. But a business-backed plan in 2020 sought to limit damages for defective products to $250,000, make it harder to sue property owners for harms on their property caused by someone else, and bar plaintiff’s lawyers from arguing for a specific amount of money before a jury. Business groups also say Georgia should change its practice of allowing plaintiffs to sue an insurance company at the same time they sue a trucking company.
Republicans mostly support restrictions and Democrats mostly oppose them.
"I think that parties who have been harmed or injured or exploited or abused deserve an opportunity through our justice system to pursue redress," Ossoff told reporters before the event. "And of course, it’s also the case that businesses sometimes bear the cost of responding to abusive litigation. So it’s about striking the right balance."
Ossoff was at pains to emphasize his bipartisanship, saying Georgia is at its best when everyone is "all pulling in the same direction."
"You will not find me investing my time courting controversy on national cable news or posting insults on social media," Ossoff said. "That’s not the way to get things done for Georgia and my job is to get things done for Georgia."
Ossoff’s remarks come a little more than a month after Kemp attacked Democrats at the groundbreaking for a supplier of electric battery material in Bainbridge. Kemp has said Georgia Republicans — not President Joe Biden’s administration — should get the credit for attracting electric vehicle makers to the state. Ossoff argues the electric vehicle boom wouldn’t happen without Democratic policies, but argues "we’re all on the same team, and that’s team Georgia."
Kemp could challenge Ossoff for his Senate seat in 2026.