Next week, the
Georgia Supreme Court will hear a medical malpractice lawsuit brought by the parents of a 15
year old boy, Shaquille Johnson, who died of blood clots in his lungs
after being treated at Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital. At issue is Georgia’s
emergency care statute, which protects emergency room physicians and healthcare
providers from liability for medical negligence, so long as they provide
“a slight degree of care.”
In December 2007, Johnson underwent arthroscopic knee surgery for injuries
caused while playing football. About a week later, the teenager began
to experience pain on the left side of his chest. He was taken the emergency
room, and treated by Dr. Price Paul Omondi.
According to Dr. Omondi’s testimony, he ordered a chest x-ray, an
EKG, and several other standardized tests. Based on the results of Dr.
Omondi’s examination, he determined that Johnson was suffering from
pleurisy, an inflammation of the lining of the lungs. Johnson was prescribed
pain medication and discharged.
In early January, Johnson was transported via ambulance to Phoebe Putney
Memorial Hospital, complaining of chest pains and difficulty breathing.
He died shortly thereafter from a bilateral pulmonary embolism or, blood
clots in both lungs.
Plaintiffs’ complaint alleges that the attending physician’s
treatment of their son deviated from the proper standard of care.
The complaint filed against the hospital and attending physician by Johnson’s
parents alleges that the Dr. Omondi and the hospital’s treatment
of their son deviated from the proper standard of care. Specifically,
it argues that Johnson’s symptoms where a classic presentation of
pulmonary embolism. According to the complaint, Johnson’s pulmonary
embolism would have been uncovered if Dr. Omondi had ordered a chest CT
scan as well as, an ultrasound of his injured leg.
Georgia’s trial court and appellate court ruled in favor of the physician
and hospital, citing Georgia’s emergency care statute which requires
a lower standard of care in the emergency room setting.
The trial court ruled in favor of Dr. Omondi in a summary judgment ruling,
meaning that the court determined that the facts were undisputed and the
law was in favor of Dr. Omondi’s position. Accordingly, the case
was not heard before a jury. The trial court based its ruling on Georgia’s
emergency care statute which provides that emergency room physicians and
healthcare providers cannot be held liable for medical malpractice unless
their actions show gross negligence.
The Court of Appeals upheld the trial court’s ruling. The appellate
court explained that Georgia’s emergency care statute clearly distinguishes
the standard of care required by emergency room physicians and health
care providers from other medical professionals. Emergency room physicians
and health care providers are only liable for malpractice if they exhibit
gross negligence, which is defined as the failure to provide even a slight
degree of care.
If you or a loved one have been injured as a result of a medical professionals
malpractice, or if your loved one has been killed due to
medical malpractice, you should contact an attorney immediately.