Articles Posted in Medical Negligence

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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.

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lawyersNaming the right Defendant in a timely manner is obviously important in lawsuits but if you make a mistake and the defendants knew you made a mistake, then the Defendant is not getting out of a meritorious case. For instance, in one case, the Georgia Court of Appeals addressed an interesting issue regarding whether a medical malpractice wrongful death claim could be dismissed because the plaintiff erroneously named the wrong physician in the complaint.

The key issue here is the idea in Georgia law that if you screw up and name the wrong defendant but everything else about the case is the same and the defense knew about the mistake and is not prejudiced, then you get to relate the new complaint back to the old one and the Statute of Limitations won’t bar you.

Here a Doctor was sued within the 2 years for medical malpractice. The plaintiff named one doctor when it should have been another at the same practice. The defense lawyer met with the right doctor and discussed the mistake and then sat around and waited until three years later to try to get the case kicked out. The plaintiff corrected the mistake but the trial court threw the case out anyway. Here the Court of Appeals reversed that decision saying the hospital group “has not been surprised by the claim, and they were aware almost immediately, and indeed, they notified Dr. Ellis about the malpractice allegations in the complaint within a month of service of the complaint.” In other words, no harm, no foul.

This wrongful death case that is the subject of this appeal, which was originally filed on December 11, 2011, was brought by the late husband of a woman who died shortly after undergoing a total knee replacement surgery.  Specifically, after surgery, the decedent’s lungs experienced aspiration that caused her to develop acute respiratory distress syndrome, which ultimately led to a cardiac arrest, organ failure, and death. In the complaint, the decedent’s husband alleged that this string of events was caused by the purportedly negligent care of a physician employed by a local physician group. An attached expert affidavit further detailed how the physician’s conduct resulted in the death. About a month after the complaint was filed, counsel for the late husband met with the physician named in the original complaint and learned that it was in fact a different physician who performed the acts alleged to be negligent in the complaint. Counsel for the physician did not immediately move to amend the complaint.

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nurseryFor soon-to-be parents, quality prenatal care is of the utmost importance. Although finding quality prenatal health care providers is often a difficult undertaking for many people, the task can be even more difficult for women who find themselves behind bars during a pregnancy. Indeed, in a recent decision, Durden v. NaphCARE, Inc., a Georgia federal district court needed to address a medical malpractice claim brought by a female inmate who suffered a stillborn birth while serving time in a detention facility.

The plaintiff in this action learned that she was pregnant in November 2011, shortly before she was to report to Newton County Detention Center (“NCDC”) to serve a sentence for a state court conviction. The principal defendant in this action, NaphCARE, Inc., is a contractor hired by Newton County to provide healthcare and nursing services to inmates at NCDC. The plaintiff had her first appointment with the obstetrician responsible for her care during the course of her pregnancy and incarceration on January 17, 2012. During a visit with the obstetrician on March 13, the plaintiff was diagnosed with an incompetent cervix, a condition that if left untreated could result in a miscarriage or premature delivery. The plaintiff was admitted to Newton Medical Center, where she underwent a procedure involving the insertion of a cervical cerclage to treat the incompetent cervix.  The plaintiff was discharged two days thereafter and returned to the infirmary at NCDC. On the afternoon of the day of her return to the infirmary, the plaintiff began to complain of vaginal discharge. The obstetrician was contacted, and he instructed nurses at the infirmary to continue monitoring the plaintiff’s condition.

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wheelchairIn 2007, the Georgia legislature adapted existing state laws concerning powers of attorney and living wills and adopted the Advance Directive Act. This Act streamlined existing state laws to make it simpler for a citizen to declare preferences for medical treatment and appoint someone to make medical decisions on his or her behalf. Beyond clarifying rights associated with medical decision-making, the Act provided immunity to health care providers in certain situations when care is administered in contravention of the terms of an advance directive. Given the law’s newness, many of these contours of the Act’s provisions have yet to be tested through litigation. However, in a recent decision, Doctors Hosp. of Augusta v. Alicea, the Supreme Court of Georgia took the opportunity to weigh in on the scope of this important law.

The plaintiff in Alicea is the granddaughter of a deceased woman who received care at Doctors Hospital in Augusta, Georgia. The decedent had been brought to the hospital on March 3, 2012, and preliminary tests showed that she was suffering from pneumonia, sepsis, and acute renal failure. About two years earlier, the decedent had executed an advance directive that generally gave the plaintiff the authority to make medical decisions on her behalf, including decisions related to artificial life support treatments. The decedent had repeatedly told her family members that she did not want rely on machines to live and that her family should let her pass when it was time. In addition, the advance directive contained particular provisions expressing the decedent’s desire to not have her life prolonged artificially. At the time the decedent was admitted to the hospital, the plaintiff gave a copy of the advance directive to the staff.

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chest-xray-1526779-300x294Although medical mistakes resulting from faulty equipment or inadvertent human errors are not particularly uncommon, many do not expect intentional malfeasance on the part of medical professionals. However, even if a situation is not anticipated, it certainly does not mean it’s impossible. Indeed, in a recent decision, Jefferson v. Houston Hosps., Inc., the Georgia Court of Appeals addressed an interesting situation regarding the liability of a medical facility for its employee’s willful forgery of patients’ mammography results.

Jefferson concerned the forgery of three patients’ mammography results at a medical facility in Houston County, Georgia. All three patients received mammograms at the facility in 2009, and all three mammograms were performed by the same mammography technologist. Although the technologist was supposed to transfer mammography images to a radiologist for interpretation, the technologist testified that she used passwords she learned through her training duties to enter the system and forge mammogram results. The technologist admitted that she understood this conduct to be beyond the scope of her duties, and she ultimately pled guilty to criminal charges associated with this conduct. After the fraud was discovered, the medical facility issued a press release stating that an employee had processed a number of mammogram results without procuring a reading from a radiologist and instructed patients to receive new mammograms. All three plaintiffs returned for new mammograms, all of which were found to be normal. The plaintiffs then brought suit against the various defendants, asserting claims for, inter alia, fraud, intentional infliction of emotional distress, breach of contract, negligence, negligence per se, and conversion. The hospital ultimately moved for summary judgment, which the trial court granted, finding that:  (1) the technologist did not act within the scope of her duties, as is necessary for the hospital to be vicariously liable for the technologist’s conduct; (2) the plaintiffs failed to adduce sufficient evidence to support a finding of intentional infliction of emotional distress; and (3) none of the plaintiffs suffered actual damages as a result of the technologist’s conduct. Following the trial court’s grant of summary judgment, all the plaintiffs appealed.

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hands-1310284-199x300As strides in medical treatments and technologies continue to be made, the life expectancy of Americans continues to rise. However, notwithstanding the benefits associated with increased life expectancy, many of those of advanced age will need living assistance of some variety at some point, including hospice care in the later stages of life. Unfortunately, allegations associated with the mistreatment of this vulnerable population are not uncommon, and courts in our state often find themselves tasked with the unenviable job of addressing liability for injuries to our elderly population. Indeed, in a recent decision, Carter v. VistaCARE, LLC, the Court of Appeals addressed a pair of trial court orders dismissing claims of fraud, negligence, and battery against a local hospice care provider.

This litigation was initially brought by a resident of the hospice facility operated by the defendant in this case. During the course of litigation, the plaintiff died, and her estate was substituted as plaintiff in the action. Following the substitution of litigating party, the estate voluntarily dismissed the action. About six months later, the estate filed a new complaint asserting claims for fraud, negligence, and battery. In relevant part, the new complaint alleged that the decedent’s primary care physician had ordered that she be given home health care services but that the defendant took it upon itself to place the decedent in hospice care, even though the decedent did not qualify for such services. The estate claimed that the provision of hospice services, including the administration of morphine, caused damage to the decedent’s health and ultimately resulted in her hospitalization. The defendant moved to dismiss, which the trial court granted with respect to the claims of battery and negligence claims but denied with respect to the fraud claim. The defendant later moved for summary judgment on the remaining fraud claim, and in a subsequent order the trial court granted the motion for summary judgment on that claim. Following dismissal of the fraud claim, the estate brought the instant appeal, arguing that the trial court erred in dismissing the claims.
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examination-bed-1442884-300x201Assumption of risk is among the most commonly invoked defenses in negligence cases. Given that the defense has existed as long as the common law and is so frequently raised by defendants in negligence cases, courts have been forced to address the contours of the defense’s applicability for hundreds of years.  In a recent decision, Watson v. Reg’l First Care, Inc., the Georgia Court of Appeals added another chapter to its assumption of risk jurisprudence by addressing whether a patient assumed the risk of injury when he chose to sit on an examination table at a local medical clinic.

The plaintiff in Watson was a patient at the defendant medical clinic, where he was receiving treatment for bronchitis. Following a visit to the clinic on April 16, the plaintiff had a coughing episode that caused him to black out and hit his head on a nightstand in his home. On May 2, the plaintiff returned to the medical clinic for further bronchitis treatment. Following his arrival at the clinic, the plaintiff was taken to an examination room by a medical assistant. The medical assistant instructed the plaintiff to sit on an examination table, measured his blood pressure, and left to find a physician. While he was having his blood pressure measured, the plaintiff told the medical assistant that he had fainted as a result of coughing spells on two prior occasions. While waiting for the doctor to arrive, the plaintiff had another coughing fit that caused him to black out and fall to the floor.

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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.

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hands-1493991-300x225In a recent medical malpractice decision, the Georgia Court of Appeals addressed an intriguing issue concerning whether jurors may use the sense of touch in weighing evidence.  The decision, Piedmont Newnan Hospital, Inc. v. RA-085 Barbour, arose from an alleged act of medical negligence that occurred during the course of medical testing at a Georgia hospital.  During the trial, counsel for the plaintiff requested that the jury be allowed to touch the plaintiff’s hands in order to determine whether there was a perceptible difference in temperature, a fact important for assessing the testimony provided by the parties’ competing expert witnesses.  The trial court granted the plaintiff’s request, permitting jurors who wished to touch the plaintiff’s hands to do so. Following the trial, which led to a favorable judgment for the plaintiff, the defendant appealed several issues, including the trial court’s ruling to let the jury utilize their sense of touch.

This events leading to this suit started on June 1, 2011, when the plaintiff visited the defendant hospital, complaining of chest pain and labored breathing. The plaintiff underwent a battery of diagnostic tests, in particular a nuclear stress test, which compares blood flow to the heart at periods of rest and stress. The test requires a small amount of nuclear material to be injected into the patient’s bloodstream, so that it may serve as a tracer and aid in taking images of the heart. In this case, the tracer was administered using an IV catheter, which was originally placed in the patient’s left arm. During the stress portion of the test, and shortly after a second dose was administered, the plaintiff began to experience pain. A nurse terminated the test, believing that the nuclear material may have infiltrated the plaintiff’s arm. The plaintiff was discharged with instructions for dealing with his arm.

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photo_666_20051213Georgia law requires that a plaintiff in a medical malpractice action provide an expert affidavit that must generally set forth the defendant’s failure to comply with the applicable standard of care. See O.C.G.A. § 9-11-9.1(a). Failure to comply with this requirement renders one incapable of successfully advancing a medical negligence claim. However, there are cases when actual testimony from a medical expert is unnecessary to ultimately succeed on a malpractice claim. For instance, the “pronounced results” exceptions obviates the need for expert testimony when the injury is of such an obvious nature that a jury can appraise the failure to exercise care without the assistance of an expert on the subject. In a recent decision, Zarate-Martinez v. Echemendia, the Georgia Court of Appeals addressed the interesting question of whether the expert affidavit requirement is waived in cases when a pronounced results exception is viable.

The plaintiff in this case alleges that a physician negligently performed an out-patient open laporoscopic tubal ligation procedure on her. The plaintiff had gone home the same day of the surgery without incident but started to experience pain, nausea, and fever over the coming days. She eventually went to the emergency room, where it was discovered that a part of her lower intestine had been perforated. The perforation was repaired, and the plaintiff remained in the hospital for further treatment.

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