Henry County is no longer where lawsuits go to die

Henry County has always been a great hometown for folks who grew up there or who adopted it as it has become a growing suburb. I’ve felt it every time I have had a case there in the past 30 years and every time I went to one of my kids’ athletic events there.  It also has judges who thoroughly grasp the advanced principles of case flow management that I tried to advance through the Next Generation Courts Commission when I was State Bar president.

Henry County State Court Judge Ben Studdard, for example, has been one of the foremost leaders in dragging Georgia courts into the 21st century. It appears the other judges there appear to have adopted his ideas on case management such as holding fairly early status and scheduling conferences in person.

But until now, I was somewhat reluctant to file a serious plaintiff’s personal injury case in Henry County because verdicts were notoriously low.  A lot of lawyers viewed it as a place where good cases went to die.

But in the past week there have been two trials in which Henry County jurors returned reasonably adequate verdicts.

-        On 11/14/2013, a Henry County jury awarded $1.4 million for a low back injury with fusion surgery despite a preexisting degenerative back condition with 25 years of prior chiropractic treatment.  The insurance company never offered more than $40,000 prior to trial, apparently relying upon the expectation that Henry County jurors would never return a significant verdict.

-        On 11/20/2013, another Henry County jury awarded $2.6 million in a case of egregious race-based abuse in a workplace. The claim was for intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligent hiring, negligent supervision, race and disability discrimination and retaliatory discharge. (Folks, this is 2013, not 1963. Racist conduct is not acceptable anywhere.)

All across Georgia, jurors have become more sophisticated and more willing to return adequate verdicts whereby people with good, legitimate, honest personal injury or wrongful death claims may be adequately compensated through the defendants’ insurance policies. We saw that a while back when I won a $2.3 million verdict for a badly broken leg in rural Gordon County.

I no longer think it matters so much whether a case is tried in the traditionally more generous venues of Fulton County or DeKalb County. Juries in Gwinnett County, Forsyth County, Cobb County, Clayton County, Cherokee County and other localities across Georgia have demonstrated the willingness to do justice in worthy cases. There is no reason why that will not happen, with a strong case wisely presented, in Douglas County, Walton County, Rockdale County, Coweta County, Hall County, Monroe County, Morgan County, Paulding County, Bartow County, Dawson County, or any others of the 159 counties in Georgia.

Kudos to the lawyers who ably handled these cases in Henry County: Mitchell Benjamin, Jeff Shiver and Scott Campbell.

Ken Shigley is a past president of the State Bar of Georgia (2011-12) and a board certified civil trial attorney of the National Board of Trial Advocacy. He is also lead author of Georgia Law of Torts: Trial Preparation and Practice (2010-13), is rated “AV Preeminent” (Martindale-Hubbell Law Directory), a “Super Lawyer” (Atlanta Magazine) and “Legal Elite” (Georgia Trend). His practice focuses on catastrophic injury and wrongful death cases statewide in Georgia.