Find out what steps you need to take to recover damages from a healthcare professional
Upon graduation from medical school, most healthcare professionals pledge to maintain and elevate the standards of their profession. But healthcare professionals, like lawyers and police officers, are human and sometimes their actions fall below their personal and professional standards.
When a healthcare professional fails to meet the acceptable standard of care, patients who are injured as a result can sue for medical malpractice.
Let's take a close look at medical malpractice in Georgia, including what an injured patient needs to prove and who can be sued.
What is medical malpractice?
A medical malpractice claim is simply a negligence claim filed against a healthcare professional or healthcare facility.
Examples of actions or inactions that commonly result in medical malpractice claims include:
- Failure to diagnose an illness or condition
- Misdiagnosis of an illness or condition
- Prescribing improper medication or dosage
- Failure to warn a patient of known risks
- Failure to follow proper medical procedures
- Unnecessary surgery or surgery performed on the wrong site
The day after surgery, Mrs. Moua reported to the hospital with swelling in her neck that progressed to a point where she could not breathe. A nurse called the on-call physician who suspected a hematoma or large blood clot had developed after surgery. As the on-call physician was driving to the hospital he ordered the neck sutures to be removed to release pressure on the airway and restore Mrs. Moua's breathing.
The nurse failed to relay the message to the on-duty physician who, rather than remove the sutures, attempted intubation. When the on-call physician arrived, he immediately removed the sutures but it was too late. Mrs. Moua suffered anoxic brain damage and passed away.
The attorney for Mrs. Moua's estate filed a medical malpractice lawsuit against St. Mary's Hospital, alleging that the applicable standard of care required the nurse to either personally remove the sutures on Mrs. Moua's neck or to notify the on-duty physician of the order.
Proving medical malpractice in Georgia
Medical malpractice actions are governed by Georgia Code § 51-1-27, which requires plaintiffs to prove the following elements by a preponderance of the evidence:
- The defendant owed the plaintiff a duty to meet a particular standard of care,
- The defendant failed to meet the applicable standard of care, and
- The plaintiff suffered an injury because of the defendant's failure to meet the applicable standard of care.
The applicable standard of care in Georgia is the level of care that a reasonably competent healthcare professional with a similar background and in the same medical community would have provided under the circumstances.
In other words:
Did the defendant do what a reasonable healthcare professional with a similar background would have done?
How does a plaintiff prove that a healthcare professional failed to meet the applicable standard of care?
Because the medical field is highly technical, plaintiffs in medical malpractice cases retain medical experts to testify that the defendant failed to meet the applicable standard of care. On the other side, defendants retain medical experts to testify that the defendant did meet the applicable standard of care.
Ultimately, it's up to the judge or jury to listen to both sides and decide.
Who can be sued for medical malpractice in Georgia?
Under Georgia Code § 51-1-27, an injured person can file a medical malpractice lawsuit against any person or business "professing to practice surgery or the administering of medicine for compensation."
In other words, an injured person can file a lawsuit against anyone who claims to practice medicine even if they don't actually practice medicine.
Filing a medical malpractice claim in Georgia
A medical malpractice claim proceeds just like any other personal injury claim, meaning you can file an insurance claim with the healthcare professional's insurance company or you can file a personal injury lawsuit against the healthcare professional.
However, Georgia Code § 9-11-9-1 requires that any medical malpractice lawsuit include an affidavit prepared by a medical expert who will testify that the defendant committed at least 1 act of malpractice. If the plaintiff fails to file the required affidavit, the plaintiff's lawsuit will be dismissed.
Statute of limitations for Georgia medical malpractice claims
Georgia requires lawsuits to be filed within a certain period of time following an injury. This is known as the statute of limitations.
Georgia law provides just 1 exception to the 2-year statute of limitations. In "foreign object" cases, which are cases in which foreign objects (such as a surgical tool) have been left inside a patient's body, the lawsuit must be filed within 1 year after the plaintiff discovers that an object has been left inside their body.
Damage caps in Georgia
Georgia allows plaintiffs in medical malpractice cases to recover economic and non-economic damages.
At one time, the Georgia Code limited the amount of non-economic damages a plaintiff could recover in certain medical malpractice cases to $350,000. However, in 2010 the Georgia Supreme Court held that non-economic damage caps were unconstitutional.
Georgia good Samaritan laws
The risk of being sued for medical malpractice makes some people hesitant to help others in need of emergency care. For this reason, Georgia law protects "good samaritans" from certain medical malpractice lawsuits.
Under the law, a person who comes upon the scene of an emergency (such as a bystander) or a person who is called to the scene of an emergency (such as an ambulance technician) and renders emergency care at the scene is immune from civil liability for any injury that results (so long as the person didn't intentionally harm the person and wasn't grossly negligent).
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