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UPDATE: Amicus Brief Filed in the Supreme Court of Georgia on the Constitutionality of Georgia's Punitive Damages Statute

March 31, 2020 BY DEF Admin

Chief Justice Harold D. Melton announced on March 27 that the Supreme Court of Georgia is gearing up to hold oral arguments via video conferencing the week of April 20. According to the announcement, "this is the first time in history the state’s highest court will hold a virtual session." 

Elissa Haynes will be part of this historic event and will be arguing remotely as Amicus Counsel on behalf of the Georgia Association of Defense Lawyers on April 22 in Reid v Morris. 

Read the full announcement

Elissa Haynes, Partner at DEF and Chair of the Georgia Defense Lawyers Association’s (“GDLA”) Amicus Curiae Committee, co-authored an amicus curiae brief filed in the Supreme Court of Georgia on behalf of the GDLA. The brief was filed in response to the Georgia Supreme Court’s invitation to the GLDA and Attorney General’s Office to express their views on whether O.C.G.A. § 51-12-5.1, Georgia’s punitive damages statute, violates the provision of the Georgia Constitution protecting the right to trial by jury and providing for the separation of powers.

The case involves a motor vehicle collision where plaintiff sued a drunk driver, as well as the individual who was alleged to have negligently entrusted the vehicle to the drunk driver. The case culminated in a bench trial with Plaintiff challenging the final judgment awarding $50,000.00 in punitive damages against the drunk driver, and no punitive damages as to the negligent entrustor. Plaintiff’s argument is that the trial court misinterpreted the “active tortfeasor” limitation of O.C.G.A. § 51-12-5.1(f) and interpreted by the Georgia Court of Appeals in Capp v. Carlito’s Mexican Bar & Grill No. 1, Inc., 288 a. App. 779 (2007). Plaintiff’s Brief asks the Georgia Supreme Court to overrule Capp or, alternatively, to find O.C.G.A. § 51-12-5.1(f) unconstitutional.

GDLA’s brief first argued that Capp was correctly decided and that a plain reading of the statute leads to the conclusion that punitive damages cannot be assessed against a passive tortfeasor in cases involving an active tortfeasor defendant acting under the influence or with specific intent to harm. GDLA also argued that Georgia’s punitive damages statute is constitutional as our courts and courts around the country, including the United States Supreme Court, have held that the determination of punitive damages is not a fact-finding function reserved for the jury. A copy of the brief can be found by clicking here.

The case is Alonzo Reid v. Lakenin Morris and Keith Stroud, Supreme Court of Georgia, Case No. S20A0107. Oral argument is set for March 19, 2020 where Elissa Haynes will be arguing on behalf of GDLA.


Elissa Haynes is an experienced litigator with a civil litigation and appellate practice focused primarily on defending claims involving general liability, negligent security, premises liability, personal/catastrophic injuries, wrongful death, and religious institution liability. Elissa is involved in all aspects of the litigation process and has served as lead counsel in trial and on appeal. Elissa routinely consults on appellate matters and often begins her involvement at the trial court level to perfect the record and maximize chances of an advantageous result in any subsequent appeal. Her background as a former plaintiff's personal injury attorney provides her with a unique perspective and leverage to successfully resolve even the most complex cases. 

Full Bio