If you have experienced an unexpected result from your medical care or if your doctor misdiagnosed you, you might be asking whether there is anything you can do about it. An unfavorable outcome alone is not enough to win a medical malpractice case. The doctor or medical professional must have failed to act within the standard of care.
Georgia Statute on Medical Malpractice
The section of the Georgia Code that gives plaintiffs the right to file medical malpractice actions is GA Code § 51-1-27 (2017), which states the following (emphasis added).
“A person professing to practice surgery or the administering of medicine for compensation must bring to the exercise of his profession a reasonable degree of care and skill. Any injury resulting from a want of such care and skill shall be a tort for which a recovery may be had.”
Elements of Medical Malpractice in Georgia
Analyzing that statute, we see that it contains three elements. We have to prove all three facets of the statute to prevail in a medical malpractice action. The factors are:
- The person you want to sue (defendant) must be someone who professes to practice surgery or administer medicine for compensation, and
- The defendant must have failed to bring to the exercise of his profession a reasonable degree of care and skill, and
- The lack of care or skill must be the cause of an injury.
What Constitutes a Reasonable Degree of Care and Skill
When “reasonableness” is the yardstick by which we measure conduct, you can get different results in cases with similar fact patterns. Reasonableness is a judgment call.
If you accuse a person of exceeding the speed limit, you can measure the speed of the person’s vehicle and compare it to the legal speed limit. Establishing a violation is a simple matter.
Violating the standard of care in medicine is not such a straightforward task. You may work with expert witnesses who can testify that the doctor failed to act with a reasonable degree of care and skill.
Examples of Possible Violations of the Standard of Care
Although doctors have some leeway in how they perform procedures and practice medicine, there are some protocols that the medical community at large will agree are essential. If a doctor deviates too far from these rules, other members of the medical establishment might have the opinion that the doctor violated the standard of care.
Since these situations are usually fact-centered, it is best to use hypotheticals to try to understand the standard of care. Here are a few:
Accepted diagnostic testing. A woman went to the urgent care center complaining of a severe sore throat and pain when swallowing. She had a fever of 102.5, body aches, headache, and little red dots at the back of the roof of her mouth.
The urgent care doctor told her to take Tylenol, drink lots of orange juice, and get plenty of rest. The doctor did not perform a strep test or put her on antibiotics.
The woman did, indeed, have strep throat, which is a bacterial infection. The untreated strep led to post-streptococcal glomerulonephritis, which is inflammation of the kidney. She sustained permanent kidney damage.
The doctor’s failure to perform a strep test was likely a violation of the standard of care, which could make the doctor liable for medical malpractice.
Accepted treatment. A man went to the emergency room with a mangled hand from a dog bite. He reported that a stray dog attacked and bit him. The dog then ran away with an unusual gait. The man said that the dog had frothy saliva around its mouth.
The emergency room staff cleaned and dressed the wound, using sutures where appropriate. They gave the man painkillers and told him to see his primary care doctor if he saw any signs of infection. They did not administer rabies shots or advise the man about the possibility of rabies.
Over time, the man began to feel as if he had the flu and had itching around the bite area. He became confused and agitated, then experienced hallucinations.
The man’s family took him to the emergency room, but once a person shows the signs of rabies, there is no effective treatment. The man died of rabies.
The emergency room staff’s failure to address the possibility of rabies was likely a violation of the standard of care, at the level of medical malpractice.
Accepted level of skill. A woman asked her dermatologist to recommend a plastic surgeon to repair her facial scars from a car accident. The dermatologist said that he could perform the surgery. He did not tell the woman that he had no training in or experience with the type of procedure she needed.
The dermatologist botched the surgery, causing much worse disfigurement. The doctor’s failure to bring a reasonable degree of skill to the treatment of his patients was a violation of the standard of care and subjected him to a medical malpractice claim.
Accepted level of care. A man went into an outpatient surgical center to have his tonsils removed. Unbeknownst to him, since he was under general anesthesia, the surgeon was under the influence of opioids, to which the doctor had an addiction. The painkillers caused the surgeon to be less precise in his surgery, and he permanently damaged the man’s vocal cords.
Performing surgery while under the influence of drugs was a violation of the standard of care. The surgeon can be liable for medical malpractice.
Getting Legal Help for Medical Malpractice in Georgia
Although we discussed several hypothetical scenarios, you do not have to sort out whether the doctor or medical facility violated the duty to exercise a reasonable degree of care and skill. We can help you analyze if you have a medical malpractice case and then build a case to prove medical malpractice liability.
Just give us a call today at 404-474-0804 today for your free consultation.