Articles Posted in Georgia Supreme Court

by
The issue before the Supreme Court in this case centered on whether physicians employed as faculty members at the Medical College of Georgia ("MCG") were entitled to official immunity in treating a patient at MCG's Children's Medical Center. Plaintiffs-Appellees Kenneth Jones and Clara Ramon filed a medical malpractice action against Appellants Prem Singh Shekhawat, M.D. and Wayne Mathews, M.D., along with other defendants, arising from treatment rendered to Plaintiffs' child at the Center in 2003. The trial court granted summary judgment to both Appellants, concluding that they were entitled to official immunity under the Georgia Tort Claims Act. The Court of Appeals reversed, finding a genuine issue of material fact as to whether Appellants, in treating Plaintiffs' child, were acting within the scope of their employment with the State, using the Supreme Court's holding in "Keenan v. Plouffe," (482 SE2d 253 (1997)). After further review, the Supreme Court concluded that "Keenan" should have been overruled, because it conflated the standard for official immunity with that for sovereign immunity. Utilizing the proper analysis, the Court held that Appellants were entitled to official immunity because they were acting within the scope of their state employment in rendering the medical care at issue. View "Shekhawat v. Jones " on Justia Law

by
Following the death of his wife, appellee James Jordan initiated this medical malpractice action against appellants Wellstar Health System, Inc. and Dr. James Sutherland (collectively "Wellstar"). As part of its discovery plan, Wellstar sought to conduct informal ex parte interviews of certain non-party health care providers who previously had treated Jordan's spouse. Wellstar moved the trial court for a protective order. After a hearing, the trial court issued a qualified protective order authorizing Wellstar to conduct ex parte interviews of named health care providers for the limited purpose of questioning them about the "development of, diagnosis of, and treatment of the cancerous condition which caused or contributed to the death of Marilyn Kay Adams Jordan." Although the trial court determined that the circumstances did not require Wellstar's counsel to provide Jordan with prior notice of or an opportunity to appear at the interviews, it did require that "the interviews be transcribed by a court reporter should Jordan make a written request for transcription." Jordan asked that the interviews be transcribed and subsequently sought their production. Wellstar objected to production of the transcripts, claiming they were not subject to discovery because they constituted protected work product. Jordan filed a motion to compel, which the trial court granted without conducting an in-camera review in an order summarily rejecting Wellstar's work product claim. The Court of Appeals denied Wellstar's application for interlocutory appeal, and the Supreme Court granted a writ of certiorari to determine the propriety of the trial court's production order. The Court found that production of such material was not required by the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act ("HIPAA") or the language of the protective order entered in this case, but the Court vacated the trial court's judgment. "HIPAA . . .does not require the production of the transcripts at issue. Because no findings have been made with regard to waiver or the second criteria for production of the transcripts and the trial court sits as the trier of fact in discovery disputes, the case must be remanded to the trial court." View "Wellstar Health System, Inc. v. Jordan" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court granted certiorari to the Court of Appeals in this professional negligence action to address: (1) the standard for harmless error where a trial court refuses to strike an unqualified juror; and, (2) the trial court's duties under OCGA 9-10-185 to remedy prejudicial statements by counsel. Finding that the Court of Appeals erred in its analysis of both issues, the Supreme Court reversed and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Stolte v. Fagan" on Justia Law

by
After a jury returned a verdict for Dr. Mary Johnson on her legal malpractice claim against Steven K. Leibel, Leibel filed a motion for JNOV and a motion for a new trial. The trial court denied the motion for JNOV but granted the motion for new trial. Both parties appealed and the court of appeals reversed the grant of Leibel's motion for new trial but affirmed the denial of the motion for the JNOV. The court held that, contrary to the court of appeals' reasoning, the second jury in the malpractice case was not deciding what the first jury would have done in the underlying case had the attorney not been negligent, but only what a reasonable jury would have done had the underlying case been tried without the attorney negligence alleged by plaintiff. Because the jury in the malpractice case was not being asked to decide what a prior jury would have done, it was merely being asked to do exactly what any jury in a discrimination lawsuit would do, which was, evaluate the evidence in the case and decide the case on the merits. This was a task that was solely for the jury, and that was not properly the subject of expert testimony. Accordingly, the court of appeals erred in concluding that the expert testimony at issue was admissible in this case. Accordingly, the court reversed the judgment. View "Leibel, et al. v. Johnson" on Justia Law

by
Appellant, a young child with severe cerebral palsy, was excluded from most of the liability phase of the trial of her and her parents' lawsuit alleging that her condition was caused by appellees' medical malpractice. At issue was whether a party could be denied a right to be present in court during the trial of their case and excluded from the courtroom because her physical and mental condition could evoke undue sympathy from the jury and thereby improperly prejudice the other party. The court concluded that a party could not be excluded from her own trial simply because her physical and mental condition could evoke sympathy, even under these circumstances. Instead, trial courts could and should address the risk of undue sympathy by using jury instructions and other common and time-tested means of ensuring that both parties received a fair trial, without infringing on the parties' right to be present. Accordingly, the court reversed the judgment. View "Kesterson, et al. v. Jarrett, et al." on Justia Law

by
The Court of Appeals held that Victor Bruscato was entitled to continue pursing a claim for medical malpractice against his psychiatrist, Dr. Derek O'Brien, based at least in part on an agreement that Bruscato brutally killed his mother as a result of deficient psychiatric treatment from O'Brien. Following the murder, Bruscato brought a malpractice claim against O'Brien and the trial court granted summary judgment for O'Brien, ruling that, among other things, public policy would not allow Bruscato to benefit from his wrongdoings. The Court of Appeals reversed and this court subsequently granted certiorari to determine whether the Court of Appeals properly ruled that Bruscato's claim for damages was not barred by Georgia public policy. After reviewing the case, the court held that the public policy issues were correctly examined and determined by the Court of Appeals and generally adopted the Court of Appeals' analysis where an individual's psychiatric disorder prevented him from exercising a reasonable degree of care to prevent himself from taking improper and illegal actions. In this case, a question of fact remained as to whether Bruscato knowingly committed a wrongful act because there was considerable question regarding his sanity and competency at the time the wrongful act was committed. As of this time, it could not be said that, should Bruscato's claim against O'Brien be successful, he might profit from knowingly committing a wrongful act. Thus, O'Brien's motion for summary judgment based on such an argument could not succeed. Moreover, Bruscato's lawsuit was not wholly related to his act of murder and it was not wholly designed to profit from that act where Bruscato was seeking damages from the allegedly improper treatment he received from O'Brien. Accordingly, the judgment of the Court of Appeals was affirmed. View "O'Brien v. Bruscato" on Justia Law