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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.

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