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Medical Malpractice and Georgia Wrongful Death Lawsuits

A wrongful death is when one person dies as the result of another person or legal entity’s negligent or intentional action. We often think of wrongful death lawsuits in terms of accidents. For instance, if a drunk driver runs a red light, plows into another vehicle, and kills its occupants, that drunk driver can be sued for the wrongful death of the victims.

But another common cause of wrongful death is medical malpractice. Indeed, there are cases where someone survives an initial injury, such as an auto accident, only to die at the hospital due to a mistake made by the doctors. Even in non-emergency cases, an error in diagnosing or treating a patient often leads to a preventable death. In these situations, the surviving family members can file a wrongful death claim against the responsible health care providers.

Bibb County Jury Orders Two Georgia Hospitals to Pay $40 Million to Patient’s Family

Wrongful death due to medical malpractice is taken quite seriously by Georgia juries. For example, a Bibb County jury recently awarded $40 million in a medical malpractice lawsuit arising from the 2017 death of a 25-year-old woman. According to WGXA News, the victim suffered from sickle cell disease. This is an inherited disorder that affects the shape of the red blood cells that carry oxygen to different parts of the human body. As explained by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a normal human red blood cell is round. But in sickle cell patients the proteins in the red blood cells, known as hemoglobin, become “hard and sticking” and form a shape that resembles a sickle used by farmers.

In November 2017, the victim went to Phoebe Sumter Medical Center, complaining of pain due to her sickle cell disease. The medical staff gave the victim fluids and pain medication but quickly discharged her. A few hours later, however, she returned to the Medical Center “in severe distress,” according to court records, with worsening pain and vomiting.

The supervising physician on-duty failed to examine the victim and she was discharged a second time. But she returned again within a few hours in respiratory distress. At this point, the Medical Center staff placed the victim on a ventilator. She was then transferred to a different hospital, The Medical Center of Georgia, also known as Navicent. After her arrival, however, Navicent staff determined they “lacked the necessary knowledge and facilities to perform certain procedures” required to care for the victim. So they arranged to transfer her to a third hospital. Unfortunately, the victim went into cardiac arrest during transport and coded five times. She died the next day.

The victim’s parents subsequently filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Phoebe Sumter and Navicent. The jury ruled in favor of the parents and held that their daughter’s death was due to gross negligence on the part of both hospitals and their staff. The jury apportioned the blame equally, 50 percent to Navicent (now known as Atrium Health Navicent) and 50 percent to a doctor and nurse employed by Phoebe Sumter. The award of damages included $35 million to the victim’s parents and an additional $5 million to her estate.

The Expert Testimony Requirement in Medical Malpractice Cases

Pursuing a wrongful death case based on medical malpractice can get quite complicated. That is because there are a number of special rules that apply to medical malpractice but not to other types of personal injury claims. One of these rules is the requirement for an expert affidavit.

Essentially, you cannot sue a health care provider for professional negligence (malpractice) unless you can produce a sworn affidavit signed by a qualified medical expert in the same field as the defendant. This affidavit must be filed together with the plaintiff’s lawsuit. If there is no affidavit–or a judge later determines the expert was not qualified–the underlying medical malpractice lawsuit will be dismissed.

The affidavit itself must identify at least one negligent act committed by the defendant health care provider. A “negligent act” in this context basically means the provider deviated in some way from the accepted standard of care for their specific profession. This means the expert must be knowledgeable and qualified in that field so as to offer a valid opinion regarding the standard of care.

Why Do the Victim’s Parents Receive Compensation?

In the case discussed above, the jury awarded $40 million in damages for the defendants’ medical malpractice. You might wonder why most of the award, $35 million, went to the victim’s parents rather than her estate. This is because of how wrongful death damages work in Georgia.

A wrongful death claim is meant to compensate both the deceased victim’s survivors and their estate. If the victim was married, their spouse is considered the survivor. If the victim did not have a surviving spouse, their children or descendants would be considered the survivors. If, as in the Bibb County case, the victim was unmarried and had no descendants, their parents are considered the survivors.

The surviving family member is entitled to recover damages for the loss of the victim’s care, companionship, counsel, and advice. They can also recover the economic value of the victim’s life had they survived. In other words, the wrongful death damages must reflect the money the victim was expected to earn throughout the rest of their lifetime.

The victim’s estate may separately recover wrongful death damages related to the victim’s death. This includes compensation for the victim’s final medical experiences, their funeral and burial, and other out-of-pocket costs.

Contact Our Georgia Wrongful Death Lawyers Today

Losing a family member under any circumstances is a terrible and traumatic event. And when that death is the result of medical malpractice or some other form of third-party negligence, the surviving family members understandably want answers–and justice. A qualified Atlanta wrongful death attorney can review your case and advise you for your options in seeking financial compensation under the law. Contact Stewart Miller Simmons Trial Attorneys today to schedule a free case evaluation with a member of our team.

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