Articles Posted in Medical Malpractice

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If you are injured due to a hospital’s negligence, you would assume that you have the right to sue for damages. If the hospital is a charitable institution, however, it may not be that simple. For nearly a century, Georgia courts have recognized a special “charitable immunity” that protects such hospitals from personal injury lawsuits.

Lewis v. Grady Memorial Hospital Corporation, Inc.

The charitable immunity doctrine has a long and sordid history. It first crept up in a case decided in the 1830s by the House of Lords, which used to be the United Kingdom’s highest court. Although the Lords later repudiated their decision, American courts in the late 19th century picked up on the idea of charitable immunity and ran with it.

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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.

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There are stricter rules in Georgia for bringing a medical malpractice lawsuit versus other types of personal injury claims. Not surprisingly, hospitals often try to classify ordinary negligence cases as malpractice in order to make it more difficult for the plaintiff to pursue his or her claim.

Byrom v. Douglas Hospital, Inc.

The Georgia Court of Appeals recently rejected just such an attempt. The plaintiff in this case had gone to a local hospital to undergo tests for a surgical procedure. A nurse transported the plaintiff, who normally walks with a cane, by wheelchair from the exam room to the waiting room.

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Many medical malpractice cases involve a physician who prescribed the wrong type or dosage of medication, causing physical harm to the patient. Such negligence is obviously horrific and inexcusable. But the Georgia Court of Appeals recently considered a different sort of negligence case involving a physician and an incorrect prescription.

Carter v. Cornwell

The plaintiff in this case is a Georgia woman who suffers from chronic pain. She had been under the care of the defendant, her physician, for 16 years. During an office visit in 2014, the defendant issued the plaintiff a prescription for 120 pills of hydrocodone. But the defendant subsequently altered the prescription to 180 pills before the plaintiff left his office.

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Medical malpractice is treated differently than most personal injury claims in Georgia. State law requires a malpractice plaintiff to submit an affidavit from a qualified expert who can attest that there is “at least one negligent act or omission claimed to exist and the factual basis for each such claim.” Without such an affidavit, a judge must dismiss the malpractice lawsuit.

To make things even more difficult for malpractice victims, Georgia law imposes specific qualifications on the experts who must submit the affidavits. The expert must have “actual professional knowledge and experience” in the same specialty as the defendant. This experience must include either “active practice” in the specialty “for at least three of the last five years” preceding the filing of the affidavit, or alternatively, teaching in that specialty for “at least three of the last five years as an employed member of the faculty” at a properly accredited educational institution.

Zarate-Martinez v. Echemendia

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Many Georgia residents do not wish to receive extraordinary medical procedures in the event they are suffering from a terminal illness. Hospitals and health care providers are legally required to honor a patient’s wishes in this respect, especially when there is an Advance Directive making such intentions clear. If a hospital ignores such a directive, it may be liable for causing the patient unnecessary pain and suffering.

Doctors Hospital of Atlanta v. Alicea, Administratrix

The Georgia Supreme Court recently addressed the subject of when a hospital may escape liability for ignoring a terminal patient’s Advance Directive. The case is a pending lawsuit involving a 91-year-old woman who passed away in 2012. The plaintiff is the woman’s granddaughter, acting as the administratrix of her estate.

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Every year thousands of Americans are injured or even killed due to defective medical products. While most manufacturers are responsible and take care to properly test a medical device or drug before introducing it into the marketplace, there are still cases where a defective product makes it to the patient. When that defect causes harm, it can take many years of litigation before the patient receives compensation.

Christiansen v. Wright Medical Technology Incorporated

Recently a federal judge in Atlanta rejected a medical device manufacturer’s bid to throw out a jury verdict arising from a product liability claim. Although the judge refused to disturb most of the jury’s findings on liability and damages, he did cut its punitive damages award by nearly 90%.

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Employers are normally liable for the acts of their employees. In tort law this is known as vicarious liability. In Georgia, vicarious liability applies whenever an employee acts “by [the employer’s] command or in the prosecution and within the scope of [the employer’s] business, whether the same are committed by negligence or voluntarily.” In other words, if you direct your employee to complete a particular task, and in doing so he injured another, the victim can sue you for damages.

Jefferson v. Houston Hospitals, Inc.

But what about a case where the employee ignores your instructions? A recent decision by the Georgia Court of Appeals illustrates how employers may be able to get off the hook even in cases of egregious employee misconduct. The case arises from a 2014 incident that made national headlines. In April 2014, a former technician at a hospital in Perry, Georgia, pleaded guilty to 10 counts of reckless conduct and one count of felony computer forgery.

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Every parent dreads the prospect of taking a child to the emergency room following an accident. This dread can turn to horror if negligence on the part of medical personnel compounds the child’s injuries. Unfortunately, Georgia law makes it difficult to hold emergency medical providers accountable for malpractice. Under a 2005 “tort reform” law, a victim must prove by “clear and convincing evidence” that a provider of “emergency medical care” committed “gross negligence.” This is a significantly higher legal standard than traditional malpractice claims, where Georgia only requires proof of ordinary negligence by a “preponderance of the evidence.”

Nguyen v. Southwestern Emergency Physicians, P.C.

The Georgia Supreme Court recently addressed the application of Georgia’s emergency room law to a tragic case involving an 8-year-old girl. When the child was just six months old, she fell off a bed and hit her head on a blunt object. The child’s mother—who later described the head injury as the size of an apple, practically “another head” on her baby—took her to a hospital emergency room in Albany, Georgia.

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On March 27, the Georgia Supreme Court issued a ruling that should benefit all patients who bring medical malpractice claims in the state. The high court unanimously affirmed a lower court’s decision allowing a malpractice plaintiff to amend his complaint after a trial court found it defective. The defect arose from a dispute over the plaintiff’s decision to substitute one expert witness for another.

Fisher v. Gala

The plaintiff received treatment for back pain from a group of neurosurgeons in 2010. According to the plaintiff, the neurosurgeons misdiagnosed him and performed unnecessary surgical procedures, leading to “serious complications and permanent disabilities.” In July 2012, the plaintiff sued the neurosurgeons for negligence.