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.
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…