Nursing homes and rehabilitation centers are responsible for patients who require ongoing medical care. When these facilities fail to follow proper protocols, the results can be fatal. Under Georgia law, any health care provider may be liable for wrongful death if there is a breach of duty that is the “proximate cause” of the patient’s demise.
Fields v. Taylor
The Georgia Court of Appeals recently reinstated a wrongful death claim against a geriatrics doctor in Dublin. The lawsuit was brought by the daughter of a woman who died six years ago while under the defendant’s care at a rehabilitation center. The deceased had been admitted to the center temporarily while the daughter, her mother’s caregiver, was unavailable.
According to the daughter, her mother “had been subject to an aggressive program to prevent pressure ulcers.” Pressure ulcers are also commonly known as bedsores. The Mayo Clinic defines bedsores as “injuries to skin and underlying tissue resulting from prolonged pressure on the skin.” Bedsores are common among elderly patients who are confined to a bed or wheelchair for an extended period of time.
In this case, a medical expert retained by the daughter testified the defendant failed to “implement a proper wound care plan” for the mother and generally failed to follow proper procedures for treating bedsores. As a result, the mother developed “severe pressure ulcers.” Separately, the DeKalb County Medical Examiner testified that the mother died due to sepsis from untreated ulcers.
The defendant argued, however, that there was no evidence linking any specific act on his part to the mother’s ulcers, and therefore her death. The trial judge agreed and dismissed the lawsuit. But the Court of Appeals reversed, noting that Georgia law allows a plaintiff to establish causation by “linking the testimony of several different experts.” Here, the daughter provided one expert who said the defendant’s negligence caused her mother to develop ulcers, and a second expert who established the ulcers were the cause of death. Contrary to the defendant’s argument, the appeals court said it was unnecessary for the daughter to present a single “proximate causation expert.”
In addition, the appeals court rejected the defendant’s challenges to the testimony of both of the daughter’s medical experts. The defendant claimed their opinions were based on “unsworn and uncertified medical records” and thus inadmissible. The court disagreed. While Georgia law does require experts to base their opinions on either “sworn or certified” medical records or their “own personal knowledge,” here the court pointed out that it was the defendant who provided the very medical records he now challenged. Unless the defendant intentionally provided the plaintiff “with uncertified and unsworn records in discovery, which the record in no way reflects, it was no abuse of discretion by the trial court” to permit the plaintiffs’ experts to testify.
The Court of Appeals did not rule on the merits of the daughter’s lawsuit. It merely held she presented sufficient facts and allegations to proceed with her wrongful death claim. The case now returns to a trial court for further proceedings.