Georgia Court of Appeals Examines Where Venue is Proper in a Medical Negligence Case

pediatrics-1529152-300x200Although we consider gamesmanship in the selection of where a case should be filed to be a more prevalent issue in the federal court system, arguments regarding the venue of cases are not uncommon in Georgia courts. Plaintiffs may often find a material advantage to having a case heard in a particular setting and attempt to defend their choice of venue against challenges from defendants who, for obvious reasons, find the choice detrimental to their interests. Indeed, the propriety of a venue choice was at the heart of a recent case before the Georgia Court of Appeals, Bd. of Regents v. Jordan, in which the court examined whether venue of a medical negligence case was proper in DeKalb County.

Jordan arose from an alleged incident of medical negligence related to the care and treatment of two minors at Children’s Hospital of Georgia, which is located in Richmond County and is part of the state’s university health system. After undergoing surgical procedures at Children’s Hospital, both minors were subsequently transferred to Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, located in DeKalb County, where they underwent several corrective surgeries requiring prolonged hospitalization. Their parents filed individual medical negligence lawsuits in DeKalb County. The defendants in these suits moved to have the cases transferred to Richmond County, but the motions were denied in each case because the trial court found that venue was proper in DeKalb County. The defendants filed interlocutory appeals of these denials, and the Court of Appeals consolidated the cases for the purposes of appeal.

Since the defendants in this action include a state entity, and the claims were brought under the Georgia Tort Claims Act, the mandatory venue provisions of O.C.G.A. § 50-21-28 apply.  § 50-21-28 provides, in relevant part, that “tort actions against the state . . . shall be brought in the state or superior court of the county where[] the loss occurred.” The defendants argued that the loss occurred in Richmond County because that was the location where the alleged negligence that caused the purported loss occurred. The Court of Appeals, however, found this argument unpersuasive. Indeed, “loss,” as defined under the Georgia Tort Claims Act, includes “pain and suffering; mental anguish; and any other element of actual damages recoverable in actions for negligence.”  O.C.G.A. § 50-21-22 (3). Accordingly, loss is not limited to the site of the injury, but instead it includes any location where a component of a plaintiff’s recoverable losses occurred. In these cases, the alleged negligence may have occurred in Richmond County, but much of the economic losses and pain and suffering damages for which these plaintiffs may ultimately recover compensation happened in DeKalb County. Although the Court of Appeals noted that the text of § 50-21-28 suggests there is only one site where loss occurred, the plaintiff is still permitted to file suit in any location where losses occurred because joinder would control the risk that a defendant may face multiple lawsuits in all the sites where recoverable losses occurred. See Dep’t of Transp. v. Evans, 269 Ga. 400 (1998). Accordingly, the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s rulings.

It’s unclear from the opinion what (if any) advantage the plaintiffs may have acquired from bringing suit in DeKalb County, or why the defendants thought the suit should be adjudicated in Richmond County. In any event, this case aptly demonstrates that even seemingly mundane decisions, like the venue of a case, are not beyond fervent argument. A challenge to the venue of an action is one among many assorted motions one may encounter after initiating a suit, and litigants should consider finding competent counsel prior to bringing legal action to recover compensation for their injuries. The Atlanta wrongful death attorneys at the Simon Law Firm are experienced with not only trial court practice but also the idiosyncrasies of medial negligence litigation. If you’ve recently been harmed as a result of possible negligence and would like guidance on the viability of a potential claim, feel free to contact us to schedule a free case evaluation.

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