Category: Medical Malpractice

Medical Malpractice Affidavits: Causation

A recent appellate case provides a cautionary tale for persons making a claim for injuries due to medical malpractice. Edokpolor v. Grady (A16A1031, decided 9/14/2018) is a recent medical malpractice case that was thrown out of court because the injured party’s expert affidavit was deficient.

In Georgia, negligence claims against professionals such as doctors, lawyers, and engineers require  an expert affidavit verifying the wrongdoing. This affidavit is a mandatory requirement in all malpractice claims in Georgia.

For example, in a malpractice claim against a doctor, the affidavit must be from another doctor who practices the same type of medicine and the affidavit must state that culpable doctor’s treatment of the injured patient fell below the standard of care for similar doctors; importantly, the affidavit must also explain how the alleged negligence caused the injury to the patient.

In Edikpolor, the patient reported to Grady Memorial Hospital with cardiac disease and other issues. After spending 30 days in the hospital, the doctors determined the patient needed a colonoscopy. To prepare for the examination, the doctors ordered that bowel preparation medicine be administered to the patient via a feeding tube. Contrary to these instructions, the nurses administered the medication by mouth. The patient allegedly choked on the medication, which caused fluid to enter her lungs, and she died several weeks later as a result.

The patient’s family sued the hospital, which included a malpractice affidavit from another doctor. The affidavit stated that the nurses were negligent in not following the doctor’s order to use a feeding tube, and that the negligence was the cause of the patient’s death.

The problem in this case is that the affidavit was ruled inadequate because it didn’t explain how and why feeding fluid by mouth is more risky than feeding through a tube. On the other hand, the hospital introduced a contradictory expert affidavit, which stated that choking could occur whether taken by mouth or feeding tube because  what happens is the liquid ends up in the stomach and is then regurgitated into the throat; it is at this point when the liquid is inhaled into the lungs. In other words, administering the fluid by mouth was not necessarily the cause of the injuries.

This case shows that “[a] plaintiff must show that the purported violation or deviation [by the medical professional] is the proximate cause of the injuries sustained. He must prove that the injuries complained of proximately resulted from such want of care or skill. A bare possibility of such result is not sufficient. There can be no recovery where there is no showing to any reasonable degree of medical certainty that the injuries could have been avoided.”

It’s easy to be critical after the fact, but the case underscores that not only must you show negligence, but you must be able to show with relative certainty that the negligence caused the injuries.

Langley: Important New Personal Injury Case

Langley v. MP Spring Lake, LLC, A18A0193 (May 1, 2018), just issued by the Georgia Court of Appeals, may have a big impact on many future Georgia personal injury cases. Langley involves a residential landlord-tenant relationship in which a tenant sued her landlord for injuries more than a year after the injuries occurred. Normally, in Georgia, an injured party has two years to file a personal injury lawsuit. However, in this case, the landlord moved to dismiss the case because the lease provided only one year to sue the landlord.  This is the exact language in the lease:

Limitation on Actions. To the extent allowed by law, Resident also agrees and understands that any legal action against Management or Owner must be instituted within one year of the date any claim or cause of action arises and that any action filed after one year from such date shall be time barred as a matter of law.

Focusing on the word any, the Court of Appeals ruled that any legal action included not only breach of contract claims but also personal injury claims. Thus, the lease trumped Georgia’s statute of limitations. The Court reasoned that parties should be free to enter into contracts without interference from the courts.

At Gomez & Golomb, we practice personal injury and real estate litigation. Thus, for us, Langley cuts both ways. It’s bad for our personal injury clients, but good for our real estate and corporate clients. From now on, in personal injury cases, we will be looking even more closely at applicable contracts for language that may limit injury claims. For our real estate and corporate clients, we will be advising them that Langley opens the door to include terms in their contracts that limit liability.

Negligence law in Georgia

What is negligence law? At the risk of sounding overdramatic, at Gomez & Golomb LLC, we believe negligence law is similar to the golden rule, which is “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Here is why.

Long ago, the first laws developed to discourage citizens from intentionally harming each other. Under this system, when someone intentionally harms another, the state prosecutes the responsible person. If found guilty, the state puts the person in jail.

But what about when someone unintentionally harms another? Clearly, it would be unfair to put someone in jail for conduct that lacked intent, but, at the same time, it would also be unfair to the injured person if there were no consequences? As a middle ground, we created a set of rules known as negligence law in which a negligent party isn’t prosecuted or jailed for wrongdoing, but is liable for the monetary damages caused to the harmed party. In other words, as we go about our daily business in our communities, we are obligated to act in a manner consistent with that of an ordinarily prudent and reasonable person. Georgia law confirms this principle. See O.C.G.A. § 51-1-2.

The personal injury cases we handle at Gomez & Golomb LLC all involve negligence. This means the responsible parties harmed our clients but did so without any intent. Examples of cases we’ve worked on are drivers who didn’t pay close enough attention to the road, manufacturers who design products without attention to safety, or doctors who provide medical treatment that isn’t as good as it should be.  None of these parties woke up with up plans to harm to anyone, but, for various reasons, each acted in a way that a careful, responsible, and reasonable person would not.

In our view, our society is better off when someone who intentionally harms another is put in jail and someone who unintentionally harms another is responsible for paying for the damages. While not everyone agrees with this system, and there is no doubt abuse, the alternative is a society without incentive to treat each other as each of us would like to be treated (the golden rule).

At Gomez & Golomb LLC, we see our job as making sure our clients are fairly compensated for legitimate injuries sustained because another person or entity failed to act responsibly.

Medical Malpractice Affidavits

Sworn affidavit from another doctor required in Georgia

To make sure a lawsuit against a doctor has merit, an injured party must provide an affidavit from an impartial doctor (i.e., an expert doctor) confirming the alleged malpractice of the treating doctor.  Georgia courts have stated that the purpose of this requirement is to “reduce the number of frivolous malpractice suits being filed.” Oller v. Rockdale Hosp., A17A1208 (decided August 14, 2017). From an injured party’s perspective, meeting this requirement isn’t easy. First, getting a doctor to review a case is very expensive. Second, this process requires a doctor to stand in judgment of another doctor, which understandably isn’t something most doctors want to do.

If an expert doctor reviews the facts and medical records, and agrees to sign a malpractice affidavit, the story isn’t over. The affidavit has to be carefully drafted because the courts have dismissed a number of medical malpractice claims due to inadequate affidavits. To overcome a challenge to a medical malpractice affidavit, the expert doctor must allege the following:

  • that the treating doctor failed to satisfy the standard of care for doctors treating a patient under similar conditions and like surrounding circumstances; and
  • that the expert doctor has knowledge and experience in the practice or speciality that is relevant to the acts or omissions alleged against the treating doctor (importantly, a medical doctor does not have to practice in same specialty as defendant medical doctor to be qualified to submit expert affidavit).

Meeting these requirements is a prerequisite for filing a valid lawsuit against a doctor and is a critical part of recovering damages against a doctor in Georgia. Please call us for a free consultation if you been injured due to the negligence of a doctor–we’ll be happy to review your options and discuss how we can help get your claim resolved.