Georgia s 2005 emergency medical care statute gross negligence

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Georgia's Supreme Court recently overturned a Court of Appeals decision, deciding that the family of a young teen, who died in Albany after receiving treatment in an emergency department, deserves a jury trial.

Subsequent to the passing of their 15-year-old child, the parents of the victim initiated a suit against the treating emergency room doctor for medical malpractice. The main question in the case was whether the doctor treated the boy with "gross negligence" and whether a jury should try the matter. In a recent unanimous decision, the court has decided that the case may now proceed to a jury.

Emergency room treatment

Parents of the victim took the boy to an emergency room a few days after he received arthroscopic knee surgery that was performed to alleviate a football injury. The boy was suffering from pain on the left portion of his chest.

The treating physician spent time with the victim in the emergency room. The doctor ultimately ordered a chest X-ray and electrocardiogram. After reviewing the records and tests, the doctor concluded that there was no indication of a swollen heart, pneumonia, skeletal injury or pneumothorax. The doctor found the EKG to be normal and ruled out heart-related issues. The doctor believed that the test did not indicate the existence of a pulmonary embolism. Instead, the doctor surmised that the victim was suffering from pleurisy. He prescribed Naprosyn and discharged him.

A few weeks later, however, the boy indicated that he experienced chest pain and trouble breathing. He was taken to a local hospital, where he passed away from a pulmonary embolism.

The lawsuit: The emergency medical care statute

The parents of the boy sued the doctor for medical malpractice, claiming the care their son received at the first hospital visit departed from the proper standard of care. This, allegedly, led to the victim's death. In the case, the family presented evidence from two emergency specialists, which suggested that the boy's symptoms were indicative of a pulmonary embolism. The family suggested that the doctor failed to order proper tests, which would have uncovered the problem. The trial court ruled in the doctor's favor, granting the physician "summary judgment."

In doing so, the lower court looked to Georgia's 2005 emergency medical care statute, which notes:

"An action involving a health care liability claim arising out of the provision of emergency medical care in a hospital emergency department ... no physician or health care provider shall be held liable unless it is proven by clear and convincing evidence that the physician or health care provider's actions showed gross negligence."

The Court of Appeals upheld the trial court's ruling, and the family appealed. The Supreme Court overturned the decision, noting, "Gross negligence has been defined as equivalent to the failure to exercise even a slight degree of care or lack of the diligence that even careless men are accustomed to exercise."

The Supreme Court felt that the family had provided expert testimony, which explained that the doctor's actions did not meet the requisite standard of care. Specifically, he did not take actions that would have properly excluded the pulmonary embolism (for example, a lung scan). As a result, a reasonable jury could find that the doctor acted with gross negligence. Now, the case will proceed to a jury.

If you or a loved one suffered an injury because of poor emergency care, contact an experienced attorney in the area. As in the aforementioned case, Georgia's 2005 emergency medical care statute is an imperative piece of a claim. To learn more about the law, have a lawyer assess your matter.