Holland v. CavinessAnnotate this Case
The United States District Court for the Southern District of Georgia certified a question to the Georgia Supreme Court: "Is it proper for a jury to consider a defendant’s worldly circumstances when deciding the amount of damages that should be imposed under OCGA 51-12-6?" The question arose from a case in which the issue on appeal was whether admission of "worldly circumstances" evidence in a tort action where the only injury to plaintiff was to his peace, happiness or feelings. Steven Caviness was injured in a train accident and retained attorney James Holland, II to pursue an action against the train company. The attorney filed a complaint; the company raised the affirmative defense of the expiration of the statute of limitation. The client was not told of the mistake until twenty days after his attorney learned of the missed statute of limitation. Caviness sued his attorney, and the attorney was granted summary judgment on the legal malpractice claim. A breach of fiduciary duty claim was allowed to proceed, but the district court found that because the only remaining injury to Caviness's peace, happiness or feelings, OCGA 51-12-6 applied. Caviness introduced evidence of Holland's worldly circumstances, including the law firm's income, the attorney's salary, the attorney's real estate holdings and personal property. A jury awarded Caviness $700,000 in damages. Holland's motion for a new trial was denied with leave to renew pending the Supreme Court's answer to the certified question. The Supreme Court responded that OCGA 51-12-6 precludes admission of worldly circumstances when the only injury is to a plaintiff's peace, happiness or feelings.