The venue of a lawsuit refers to the location of the courthouse that will hear
the case. In Georgia, venue associates a lawsuit to a county. Under the Georgia venue rules, for example, a case might be allowed to be tried in a Dekalb County Court (State or Superior) or a Cobb County Court (State or Superior) and the plaintiff generally gets to pick. Because Dekalb and Cobb are part of the Atlanta metropolitan area, one might think these two county-court systems would be similar and, in many respects, they are. The big difference, however, is the jury pool in these two counties. Like many states, Georgia jury pools are drawn mostly from the county’s lists of registered voters and holders of drivers’ licenses. Under Georgia law (O.C.G.A. § 15-12-40), the people on these lists comprise a “fairly representative cross section of the intelligent and upright citizens of the county.”
Just observing who the jury pool elected to the United States Congress should give you a pretty fair idea of the intelligent and upright citizens in these counties: Hank Johnson, from Dekalb, is about as liberal as they get and Tom Price, from Cobb, is the mirror image on the conservative side. I wouldn’t vote for either one. But, I am neither intelligent nor upright because I have yet to be selected for a jury in the more than three decades that I’ve lived in Georgia. The trial lawyers, who actually select the jurors from the jury pool for a particular trial, must consider a physician and lawyer too subversive to allow in the jury room because they usually stop asking me questions shortly after I tell them what I do for a living.
The jury pools in Dekalb County are, generally speaking, pro-patient and in Cobb County pro-doctor. Medical malpractice cases are only occasionally won in Cobb but are more frequently won in Dekalb. I have not, in recent years, accepted a client where venue had to lie in Cobb and, frankly, unless the facts of the case were heavily in my client’s favor, I probably never will. A medical malpractice lawsuit is just too damned expensive and time consuming to risk limited resources on a jury pool that won’t give an injured patient an even shot.
So, yes, I really do like to lay venue in Dekalb County when possible. But, if the Juanita Jackson case is typical, I’m going to catch the next flight to Tampa and open an office in nearby Polk County, Florida. Juanita Jackson, 76, died at an Integrated Health Services nursing home in Auburndale, Florida. IHS was a high-flying, go-go stock in the early 1990’s but fell into Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 1999 amid fraud and substandard-care scandals. Jackson died in 2003 and her family alleged that she was hurt after falling down; she received other injuries from pressure sores, over-medication, malnourishment and dehydration. After years of defending, the nursing-home management companies stopped participating in the lawsuit and the judge entered a default against them on July 7th of this year. The judge instructed a jury to assume the nursing home liable and to determine damages, and did it ever: $14 million in actual damages and $100 million in punitive damages. Obviously, the jury must have believed that the nursing home was reckless and malicious and treated Jackson worse than a rattlesnake.
I don’t know whether Jackson’s family will ever see a dime of this verdict. After all, it sounds like whoever was defending the nursing home ran out of money. But this verdict does demonstrate the importance of the jury pool. I’m aware of many Atlanta-area nursing home cases and they typically result in a six-figure verdict or settlement. I know of one case that broke the one-million dollar level. The specific facts of the Jackson case, of course, had much to do with the outcome, but it is equally apparent to me that the folks of Polk County, Florida know how to make someone whole after being brutalized.
Glenn L. Goodhart, M.D., J.D.
6065 Roswell Rd. Northside Tower
Sandy Springs, GA 30328
Phone: (404) 255-3282
Toll Free: 866-959-2148