Georgia Court of Appeals Rules in Favor of Plaintiff in Medical Malpractice Lawsuit

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At the beginning of this year, the Georgia Court of Appeals issued a ruling in Thomas v. Tenet Healthsystem GB, Inc., Ga. Ct. App. (2017), that clarified in which sorts of cases a subsequent negligence claim in a medical negligence case can relate back to the initial filing.

In May of 2012, the plaintiff was involved in an automobile accident, and transported on a backboard by the paramedics to the emergency room for treatment of her injuries. Upon arrival to the defendant hospital’s emergency room, her treating doctor ordered a CT scan in order to determine whether she had incurred any spinal injuries. The results of the scan were then sent to a second doctor, who read them in his home and purportedly communicated to the treating doctor his opinion that there had been no cervical spinal injury. The treating doctor then reportedly instructed a nurse to remove the cervical spine collar that the plaintiff had on, and to discharge her from the hospital.

When the plaintiff’s relative arrived to pick her up from the hospital, he reportedly found her slumped over and unresponsive in a wheelchair. Following re-examination, it was determined that she did have a fracture in her cervical spine. It was believed that the removal of the cervical collar caused a cervical fracture to displace, thus resulting in spinal cord damage, rendering the plaintiff quadriplegic.

In May of 2014, the plaintiff filed suit against the two doctors, alleging professional negligence, and against the hospital, alleging imputed liability. In August of 2015, the plaintiff filed an amended complaint claiming additional simple claims of negligence against the hospital. The hospital filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that the additional claims were barred by the statute of limitations. Following the plaintiff’s reply to the motion, the court ruled in the defendant hospital’s favor, holding that the claims were time-barred and did not relate back to the original complaint. Plaintiff thus filed an appeal.

The Appeals court found that it wasn’t until after the plaintiff filed her initial complaint, and during the course of discovery, that the plaintiff discovered the hospital had a “Termination of Cervical Spine Immobilization” policy, which stated that only doctors were to remove cervical spine collars. Here, however, a nurse removed the collar from the plaintiff, which she alleges contributed to her fracture becoming displaced and the resultant injury. It was on this basis that the plaintiff amended the complaint to include the three additional counts of negligent credentialing, negligent failure to train, and simple negligence against the defendant hospital.

In order for a plaintiff’s amended complaints to survive, they must relate back to the initial filing. OCGA § 9-11-15 (c). In determining whether the subsequent claims related back, the court looked to whether the defendant was or should have been on notice that the claims could arise, based on the same incident or occurrence that the original filing was based upon. Here, the court found that, “the argument that the removal of the collar arose out of the conduct, transaction, or occurrence set forth in the original complaint appears to be correct.”

The court clarified that the trial court’s decision to grant the dismissal of one of the claims was based upon a case where a new professional malpractice claim was being added, but that it was distinguishable because here there was not an additional professional claim being made. Rather, here, the plaintiff had already claimed that her injuries were attributable to the negligence of a hospital employee, and her amended complaint simply elaborated specifically that the employee was a nurse, adding the claim that the hospital was vicariously liable for the nurse employee’s conduct. Therefore, there was not a novel professional claim, and the amended complaint related back to the original filing.

If you have been injured in the Atlanta area, knowing what your options are moving forward, and what the laws are surrounding those options, can be very comforting. At The Simon Law Firm, our experienced Atlanta injury lawyers are committed to helping you understand the process for filing a civil action after an injury, and will aggressively represent you throughout the process of proving fault, establishing damages, and getting the settlement that you deserve. Contact us today for your free case consultation.

Read More:

Georgia Federal Court Dismisses Inmate Stillborn Birth Case, Atlanta Injury Attorney Blog, published September 29, 2016

Supreme Court of Georgia Rules on Novel Medical Negligence Defense, Atlanta Injury Attorney Blog, published September 6, 2016