TorteDeForm

Justinian Lane

Emergency Room Doctors In Georgia Can Now Make Medical Mistakes With Impunity

If you, or I, or anyone else who isn’t a doctor injures someone in Georgia, we’ll be found liable if the jury finds us negligent.  But if an emergency room doctor in Georgia injures a patient, he or she will not be liable unless he or she was grossly negligent, which is a much higher standard:

The Supreme Court of Georgia on Monday dealt a two-pronged blow to plaintiffs lawyers, rejecting challenges to two parts of the 2005 tort reform package.

The court split 4-3 to uphold a rule that demanded evidence of "gross negligence" on the part of emergency room doctors in order to sustain a medical malpractice claim. The court also divided 5-2 to uphold a fee shifting rule that is supposed to deter the filing of frivolous suits and encourage settlements.

The state high court did not issue a ruling Monday in the most closely watched case over the legislation -- a challenge to the caps on noneconomic damages in medical malpractice cases. That case is expected to be decided by the end of this month.

Source: Law.com - In Win for Tort Reform Advocates, Ga. Supreme Court Upholds ER Med-Mal Standard

I can’t come up with any good reason why a primary care physician should be liable if he or she makes a “regular” mistake in treating a patient, but an emergency room doctor who makes the same mistake won’t be held liable.  Does it matter to the patient whether the injury took place in an emergency room or in a planned surgery?  It wouldn’t to me.

I suppose this law was enacted because of a purported inability for emergency room doctors to afford medical malpractice insurance.  But does that really justify letting them make medical mistakes with impunity?  And that’s the basic result of this decision, because the gross negligence standard is so high that only blatant medical errors will subject an E.R. doc to liability.

Now that the law has been upheld by the court, should I expect that medical malpractice insurers will be drastically lowering rates for E.R. docs?  I wont hold my breath on that one…

Justinian Lane: Author Bio | Other Posts
Posted at 12:59 PM, Mar 16, 2010 in Medical Malpractice
Permalink | Email to Friend


Comments

The Supreme Court of Georgia on Monday dealt a two-pronged blow to plaintiffs lawyers

Of course, that should read:

The Supreme Court of Georgia on Monday dealt a two-pronged blow to inured patients

Posted by: Eric T. | March 16, 2010 11:38 PM

It SHOULD... but Law.com has never seemed too sympathetic to injured patients.

Posted by: Justinian Lane | March 16, 2010 11:43 PM

"I can’t come up with any good reason why a primary care physician should be liable if he or she makes a “regular” mistake in treating a patient, but an emergency room doctor who makes the same mistake won’t be held liable."

Of course you can't, since any concesasion that prevents ambulance chasers from getting a contingency fee is bad. What you don't take into account is that ER patients often arrive in dire straits requiring medical personnel to make snap decisions under less than ideal circumstances with less than complete information available

Posted by: Avenger | March 17, 2010 7:14 AM

Look, I have no interest whatsoever in handling medmal cases, unless it is BLATANT malpractice, like operating while drunk or high. So I have no skin in this game.

So what if ER docs have to make snap decisions? So do doctors performing scheduled surgeries - emergencies arise there, too. No one is saying that if a doctor makes a mistake under pressure that he or she should have to turn in his medical license. I'm simply saying that he should have to pay the costs associated with his mistake.

Let's set aside pain and suffering for a moment. Assume that a person on Medicaid comes to the ER, and a doctor is negligent, but not grossly negligent. If the doctor's mistake results in additional medical bills of $50,000, why should the taxpayers have to pay for that mistake? I don't want my tax dollars going to pay for someone's negligence - do you?

Posted by: Justinian Lane | March 17, 2010 10:25 PM