In previous articles, we have discussed the general overview of a Georgia Medical Malpractice Case and the first element of this type of case i.e, duty. Duty is, most times established by the doctor-patient relationship and is rarely contested at the trial of a medical malpractice case in Georgia.
Today we will discuss the second essential element of a successful medical malpractice claim, i.e, breach of duty. A doctor, nurse or other medical care provider has a duty to exercise a reasonable degree of care and skill when providing medical care. By falling below this minimum level of care, a doctor, nurse or other medical care provider breaches the duty owed to the patient. In legal terms, the doctor, nurse or other medical care provider must exercise that degree of skill and care “which under similar conditions and like surrounding circumstances is ordinarily employed by the medical profession generally.” Put another way, there is a minimum level of care that all medical providers are required to provide to their patients, if a doctor fails to meet this minimum, he breaches his duty to the patient.
Some of the more common breaches of the standard of care are:
Without questions the number one way in which doctors breach their duty of care and commit malpractice is by failing to adequately communicate. This could be doctors not communicating care instructions to other doctors involved in the care and treatment of the patient, a patient “slipping through the cracks” when released from the hospital and not receiving the proper follow up care, a patient not being properly instructed upon discharge as to what she must do after her stay in the hospital and a whole host of other instances.
A clear example of this is a medical malpractice case that I tried years ago in Fulton County, Georgia. My client was released from the hospital after a major surgery. Just before being discharged from the hospital, she was prescribed and administered coumadin. The surgeon had prescribed the coumadin and discharged the patient, but no one had made plans for follow-up monitoring of the client while she remained at home on nurse care and taking her coumadin dosage that we prescribed to her. After the lawsuit was filed, the surgeon’s position was that the client’s general practitioner should have monitored her coumadin. The general practitioner’s position was that the home health nurse’s should have monitored it and the home health nurses claimed that no one had even told them that the client was taking coumadin. The client’s coumadin level skyrocketed and she was rushed to the hospital where she suffered a sub-cranial hemorrhage and lost sight in one of her eyes. After a 2 week jury trial, I received a $5.5 million dollar verdict on behalf of a very deserving client.
Another area in which medical providers commonly breach their duty to patients is what we call “sloppy medicine.” This includes common medical errors such as prescribing the wrong medication or the wrong amount of the correct medication, not properly filling the prescribed medication, surgical errors, and, as hard as this may be to believe, operating on the wrong body part.
All of the above situations can result in medical malpractice. Doctors provide an invaluable service to our society. Unfortunately, a small fraction of them do not provide the proper care and treatment that every patient deserves and expects. This is when an essential element of medical malpractice, i.e., duty, is breached. Medical malpractice lawsuits are in place to help compensate patients who have been injured due to malpractice.