Court to Decide Whether Medical School Faculty Can Be Held Liable

January 26, 2013
by Sammons & Carpenter, P.C.

Georgia medical malpractice law is a field of frequent changes.Those not working in this field may not notice the changes, which may seem small, but lawyers know that any change in the law can impact their clients and future cases.

Last week the Supreme Court of Georgia heard oral arguments in a case about whether state employees, in this case faculty members of Georgia Regents University, neonatologist Prem Singh Shekhawat and anesthesiologist Wayne Mathews Jr., are professionally liable for malpractice. The case is over a few-days-old infant who had a life-threatening twisted intestine requiring surgery in 2005. During that operation, the baby was deprived of oxygen for a period. The child suffers from brain damage as a result, according to the family's lawsuit. medical_symbol.gif

Dr. Shekhawat and Dr. Mathews claim immunity from liability as state employees. But the Court of Appeals found that a doctor's duty to his or her patients outweighs employee immunity. A previous Supreme Court decision allowed state-employed medical faculty to be sued and held liable if they treated the patient in a private clinic or medical office. The doctors' argument focuses on the necessity of teaching and demonstrating skills to students, making it important to take on risky cases to show techniques to treat different medical conditions. The doctors' argue they were obliged to take this infant's case, which they would not have been if they had been at a private clinic or facility. They claim that ruling for the child's family would mean that doctors would be less willing to take these risks to teach students in difficult medical cases.

Another factor that could influence the outcome of the case is MCG Health Inc. and Physicians Practice Group, two nonprofit corporations created by the university. Whether these corporations were created to simply assist medical staff or to allow doctors to be liable for malpractice will have to be addressed by the Court. Some argue that, as a corporation, these entities have the right to sue and be sued. But others, including Justice Harold Melton, are adamant that state employees and these organizations cannot be considered as separate from the state.

The hearing was held at the University of Georgia Law School, in part of the Court's tradition of holding a hearing outside the usual courtroom to give the public, particularly students, an opportunity to watch in person. The judgment is expected in three or four months time, and medical malpractice lawyers will look forward to this area of law being clarified.

Atlanta Medical Malpractice Lawyers

If you or a loved one has been injured by a negligent medical professional, the personal injury lawyers at Sammons & Carpenter may be able to help you understand your case and seek the needed compensation. Contact our law office at 404-814-8948, or fill out our confidential online case evaluation form for a free consultation.

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