The case is about the 2003 birth of Zamarion Everett at South Georgia Medical Center in Valdosta. Vicki Hankla, an employee of Southern OB-GYN Associates, assisted in his birth as a certified nurse midwife. The baby’s shoulders got caught in his mother’s pelvis during the birth, called “shoulder dystocia”, and Hankla maneuvered his shoulder out. Zamarion now suffers from permanent “brachial plexus”, which is a condition where the nerves at the bottom of the neck are damaged, affecting arm and hand control and movement. Zamarion’s mother, Anita Postell, sued Hankla and her employer for medical malpractice during the delivery.
The trial court found for Hankla, using the testimony of a medical expert, Dr. Sandra Brickman, on the standard of care in a situation like what happened with baby Zamarion. The Court of Appeals reversed that decision, finding that the medical expert wasn’t competent to testify about the standard of care for a nurse midwife. Dr. Brickman is a board certified OB-GYN with hands on experience with “shoulder dystocia”. The Court of Appeals looked at the specifics of the Georgia law on expert testimony in medical malpractice cases. The law states that the expert must either be in active practice or teaching for three of the last five years, and also must be a member of the same profession as the person he/she is testifying about. Dr. Brickman is not a nurse midwife, so the only exception under this law would be if she had been teaching nurse midwives for three of the past five years, according to the Court of Appeals. This was not the case. So the Court found an error and reversed the trial court’s judgment.
Hankla appealed to the Supreme Court, which heard arguments this week. She claims that since the relevant law was enacted, “physician experts in Georgia unanimously have been held competent to testify when they have demonstrated sufficient personal experience either providing or teaching the care at issue in a given case.” Zamarion’s mother, Ms. Postell, argues the Court of Appeals was correct in their judgment and that the “language of the statute is clear and unambiguous, and the legislature’s ‘intent’ is embodied in that language.”
We will have to wait and see what the Supreme Court decides on this issue, which could have important consequences for evidence in future medical malpractice trials in Georgia.
Atlanta Medical Malpractice Lawyers
If you or a loved one has been injured by a negligent medical professional, the personal injury attorneys at Sammons & Carpenter may be able to help. As the case above shows, medical malpractice cases often involve expert witnesses and complicated evidence, so an experienced attorney can explain the case and how best to move forward. Contact our law office today at 404-814-8948, or fill out our confidential online case evaluation form for a free consultation.
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