Articles Posted in Medical Malpractice

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In personal injury lawsuits, it is not uncommon for the plaintiff to file one or more amended complaints. Sometimes these amendments add factual or legal allegations. In other cases, the amended complaint actually names additional defendants.

Preferred Women’s Healthcare, LLC v. Sain

A recent decision by the Georgia Court of Appeals, however, establishes some limits to how far a plaintiff can go to add a defendant, particularly in situations in which Georgia’s statute of repose comes into play. This particular case, Preferred Women’s Healthcare, LLC v. Sain, is a medical malpractice lawsuit. The plaintiff is the widower of a woman who died from complications arising from cancer.

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In common law there is a rule known as res ipsa loquitur, which is Latin for “the thing speaks for itself.” This rule basically allows a judge or jury to infer a defendant’s negligence from an event, even when the plaintiff can not provide more direct evidence that the defendant did something wrong. Georgia courts have taken a narrow view of res ipsa loquitur arguments in modern times, with the Georgia Court of Appeals noting it should only “be applied with caution and only in extreme cases.”

Huntoon v. United States

Even in cases in which a court does apply res ipsa loquitur, that is not always a guarantee that a plaintiff will recover actual damages. Consider this recent decision by the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta, Huntoon v. United States. In this case, the plaintiff received surgery at a Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) hospital in Florida. According to the plaintiff, when he came out from under anesthesia, he “noticed swelling and severe pain in his right arm.” This was later diagnosed as Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS).

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As we get older, it seems we need to take more and more prescription medications just to get through the day. We trust our doctors and pharmacists to ensure that these drugs are safe–not just on their own, but also when taken in combination with one another. But when this trust fails, and the patient suffers, who can be held legally responsible?

Allen v. The Kroger Company

A case now pending before a federal judge in Macon raises this exact question. The plaintiff is the mother of a woman who died after taking a combination of amitriptyline, a medication used to treat various types of mental illness, and morphine. According to the plaintiff’s lawsuit, her daughter had prescriptions for both medications, which were filled at the defendant’s pharmacy six days apart.

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Although medical malpractice cases are typically governed by state law, there are some situations in which federal law may also play a role. For example, the Federal Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (EMTALA) sets standards that hospital emergency departments must follow when accepting Medicare patients. Hospitals may be held liable for failing to meet its EMTALA obligations, such as failing to properly screen or treat a patient who presents with a qualifying emergency medical condition.

Pham v. Black

The Georgia Court of Appeals recently addressed the application of EMTALA to a medical malpractice claim against a Georgia-based hospital and several of its doctors. This case began when the now-deceased victim arrived at the hospital’s emergency room complaining of a “racing heart rate.” One of the defendants, Dr. Pham, was on duty that night and had general responsibility for admitting patients to the emergency department.

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We trust doctors and other healthcare providers with our lives. Unfortunately, that trust is not always rewarded. Medical errors and negligence frequently lead to catastrophic outcomes, including paralysis and death. When this happens, victims and their families have a legal right to seek compensation from the negligent providers.

Southwestern Emergency Physicians, P.C. v. Quinney

On September 28, 2018, the Georgia Court of Appeals affirmed a jury verdict in a particularly egregious medical malpractice case. The plaintiff required spinal-cord surgery to relive his chronic back pain, a symptom of his diabetic neuropathy. Although the surgery initially appeared successful, five days later the plaintiff “awoke with severe pain” and he “was having difficulty standing,” according to court records. He was then taken to a local hospital in Albany (not the one that performed the initial surgery).

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Medical malpractice requires proof that a doctor, nurse, or other healthcare provider deviated from the accepted “standard of care,” and that as a direct result of that deviation, the patient suffered some injury. Unfortunately for victims, proving causation is often more difficult than it might first appear. When it comes to malpractice, judges will not apply “common sense,” but rather look for expert testimony to support or refute the existence of causation.

Edokpolor v. Grady Memorial Hospital Corporation

Consider this recent decision by the Georgia Court of Appeals. This case involves a woman who died while under the care of the defendants, a hospital and one of its nurses. The victim had a long history of cardiac disease and spent the last month of her life in the defendant hospital.

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The right to a jury trial is a basic tenet of our legal system. Jurors are entrusted to carefully consider all of the evidence and return a verdict in accordance with the law. Of course, there are times when a jury’s verdict is so inconsistent with the facts that a judge or appellate court must intervene in order to protect the interests of the plaintiff alleging a personal injury.

Evans v. Rockdale Hospital, LLC

For instance, the Georgia Court of Appeals recently ordered a new trial in a medical malpractice case because the jury contradicted itself. It found the defendant liable for a serious act of medical malpractice, yet awarded the plaintiff zero damages for her pain and suffering. The appeals court said such a verdict “shocks the conscience” and necessitated a full retrial of the case before a new jury.

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Georgia law draws a sharp distinction between ordinary negligence and medical malpractice. The former does not necessarily require an expert’s opinion to prove liability, but the latter does. Specifically, the Georgia Supreme Court has said that medical malpractice victims must present evidence from at least one expert witness in order to “overcome the presumption that the [defendant] acted with due care and establish the [defendant]’s negligence.”

Southeastern Pain Specialists, PC v. Brown

Even in cases of egregious medical malpractice in which you would think common sense would tell you there was negligence, Georgia courts still demand expert testimony. To drive this point home, the Georgia Supreme Court recently threw out a $22 million verdict against an Atlanta doctor and his clinic. The justices felt the trial judge failed to properly instruct the jury on the differences between ordinary and medical negligence.

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Georgia’s mental health system has come under increasing public and regulatory scrutiny in recent years. Too many people suffering from serious mental illness do not receive adequate treatment. While that is tragic in and of itself, the system’s failures are compounded when these untreated patients injure or even kill innocent third parties.

Curles v. Psychiatric Solutions, Inc.

The Georgia Court of Appeals recently considered a mental health care facility’s potential civil liability in one such case. A woman with a long history of “psychotic breaks” was committed to a private psychiatric facility on three separate occasions. Approximately two weeks after the facility discharged her for the third time, the woman killed her grandmother and another man.

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We often think of medical malpractice in terms of direct negligence by a physician or other health care provider, such as a surgeon making a critical mistake while performing a procedure and permanently injuring the patient as a result. Not all malpractice is about what a provider does. In many cases it is about what the provider has not done, or more precisely, what it fails to do in a timely manner.

Consider the well-documented issue of waiting times just to receive critical medical care. This is a problem that plagues both public and private healthcare providers. According to a 2016 MSNBC report, the average wait time for care at Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) facilities is about 21 days. Meanwhile, a 2014 review of hospitals in the Atlanta area are found an average wait time of 24 days for family practice doctors and 14 days for all medical specialties.

McKinley v. United States