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Georgia's Supreme Court issues ruling allowing wrongful death claim to proceed to trial before a jury

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.