WEATHINGTON’s appellate practice team led by David Hanson won a landmark decision before the Georgia Court of Appeals on Friday, October 23, 2020, concerning the application of Georgia’s emergency medical care statute, O.C.G.A. 51-1-29.5, to medical emergencies occurring in the obstetrical unit. For the first time in Georgia, the Court held that Plaintiffs must prove gross negligence by clear and convincing evidence in cases involving medical emergencies arising in the obstetrical unit.
The underlying medical malpractice action was filed against a Certified Registered Nurse Midwife and an OBGYN group, alleging that the Midwife was negligent in her delivery of a baby after a shoulder dystocia was encountered. Defendants, represented by Paul Weathington and Heather McGrotty, moved for summary judgment, arguing that under O.C.G.A. 51-1-29.5, Plaintiffs must prove gross negligence by clear and convincing evidence because the shoulder dystocia was a medical emergency occurring in the obstetrical unit. The trial judge disagreed, finding that the emergency medical care statute only applied to emergency medical care provided in obstetrical units following treatment in the emergency department, and also finding that because shoulder dystocias are commonly encountered by obstetricians and the dystocia in this case was resolved in 40 seconds, it was a jury question as to whether this dystocia was a medical emergency.
WEATHINGTON’s appellate team took the case on appeal and argued that Plaintiffs’ interpretation of the emergency medical care statute was wrong as the plain language clearly stated that the gross negligence standard was to be applied to emergent treatment in the obstetrical unit, the emergency room, and in surgical suits following evaluation in the emergency department. WEATHINGTON also argued that the statute does not require a catastrophic or rare injury, but instead covers any emergency treatment when the failure to treat could lead to serious injury or death.
The Court of Appeals agreed on both points, finding that the statute unequivocally applied to emergency care rendered in the obstetrical unit without the need to present first to the emergency room, and that shoulder dystocia was an emergent medical condition as a matter of law; thus, Defendants were entitled to the heightened standard of gross negligence and summary judgment.
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