Medical malpractice, like any personal injury claim, requires proof of two things: The defendant committed a negligent act, and that act was the “proximate cause” of the plaintiff’s injuries. Unlike other kinds of personal injury cases, such as car accidents, it is necessary to use expert testimony to establish negligence and proximate cause in medical malpractice claims. The reason for this is simple: The average person is not qualified to know the proper “standard of care” in a medical setting.
Central Georgia Women’s Health Center, LLC v. Dean
However, even a typical juror can understand when a doctor may be trying to deceive them. This may have been the case in a recent Georgia wrongful death lawsuit. A woman who tragically lost her premature baby received a medical malpractice judgment of more than $4 million against two physicians and a health clinic.
The events that led to this case occurred more than 10 years ago. The plaintiff was a patient of the defendant’s clinic in Macon. After suffering two prior miscarriages, the plaintiff was pregnant for a third time and was at risk for a medical condition known as as an “incompetent cervix.” Essentially, a woman with this condition is unable to carry a pregnancy to full term without medical intervention, either the administration of a special drug or a surgical procedure known as a cerclage.
In this case, an ultrasound performed by the clinic indicated the plaintiff’s cervix was “shortening,” a possible sign of incompetence. Six days later, the plaintiff and her husband returned to the clinic, where she complained of an unexplained “vaginal discharge.” The plaintiff spoke over the phone to the clinic’s on-call doctor. He declined to examine the plaintiff personally or order any tests. Even after a nurse examined the plaintiff at the clinic, the doctor diagnosed her with a “urinary tract infection” and sent her home.
The next day, the plaintiff called the doctor again, reporting worsening symptoms. The doctor stood by his diagnosis and discouraged the plaintiff from seeking emergency medical care. When the plaintiff arrived later that morning for her regular appointment at the clinic, another doctor diagnosed her with an incompetent cervix. Shortly thereafter, the plaintiff gave birth to a child after just 22 weeks of pregnancy. As noted above, the child died.
At the subsequent malpractice trial, the plaintiff introduced copies of the on-call doctor’s treatment notes, which contained a number of inaccurate statements. For instance, one note claimed the doctor personally examined the plaintiff following her premature delivery, which he did not. Indeed, the doctor later crossed out his note.
The Georgia Court of Appeals, in a decision upholding the jury’s verdict for the plaintiff, said the trial judge was “within its broad discretion” to admit the notes as evidence of the on-call doctor’s “character for untruthfulness.” More to the point, the evidence presented supported the jury’s finding that the doctor’s failure to immediate diagnose the plaintiff’s incompetent cervix was the proximate cause of her child’s death.