This week, Georgia’s Supreme Court issued a ruling that would allow a
wrongful death suit involving the 2007 death of a high school football player to proceed
to trial before a jury. The fifteen-year-old boy from Albany, Georgia
died two weeks after receiving treatment for chest pains and difficulty
breathing at a local emergency room. After his death, the boy’s
parents filed a lawsuit against the emergency room physician, claiming
that the doctor’s treatment of their son deviated from the standard
of care and amounted to gross negligence, which resulted in his death.
The boy’s parents specifically alleged that the physician should
have detected a bilateral pulmonary embolism, or blood clots in both lungs,
which caused their son’s death. The boy had undergone surgery on
his knee in order to repair a football injury a week prior to the emergency
room visit. According to the physician’s testimony, he ruled out
the possibility of a pulmonary embolism based on an examination of the
patient and a review of his medical records. However, the boy’s
parents provided affidavits and testimony from two other emergency room
physicians who stated that the boy’s symptoms presented a classic
case of pulmonary embolism, which his physician would have detected if
he had administered the appropriate tests.
The trial court issued summary judgment in the physician’s favor,
based on the State’s emergency medical care statute.
The trial Court granted summary judgment in the physician’s favor.
This means that the Court determined that the undisputed facts and the
law supported a ruling in the physician’s favor. The Court based
it’s holding on Georgia’s
emergency medical care statute, which limits liability for medical malpractice arising out of
emergency medical care to circumstances where clear and convincing evidence
shows that the physician acted with gross negligence.
Georgia’s appellate court affirmed the trial court’s decision,
holding that the boy’s parents failed to show that the physician
exercised gross negligence.
The boy’s parents appealed the trial court’s ruling to Georgia’s
Court of Appeals where the trial Court’s ruling was affirmed. The
appellate Court explained that in order for the case to be tried before
a jury, the boy’s parents would have to show that a genuine issue
of material fact existed regarding whether the physician’s actions
amounted to gross negligence. To do this, they would have to present evidence
indicating that the physician failed to exercise even the slightest care.
Georgia’s Supreme Court reverse the lower courts’ decision
and allows the case to move forward before a jury.
On Thursday, the Supreme Court ruled that the trial Court erroneously granted
summary judgment in favor of the physician and reversed the appellate
Court’s decision. The Court explained that a reasonable jury could
find that the physician acted with gross negligence and failed to exercise
even the slightest care, meaning that the physician, “lacked the
diligence that even careless men” would have exercised in the same
circumstance. To support its decision, the Court pointed to testimony
which indicated that in order for the physician to rule out pulmonary
embolism, he would have to administer tests, which he did not do.
If you or a loved one have been injured as a result of medical malpractice,
or if your loved one has been killed as a result of medical malpractice
you should contact an attorney immediately.