Emergency Medical Services and The Applicable Standard of Care

In July, 2013, the Georgia Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Johnson v. Omondi. 318 Ga. App. 787 (2012). Johnson is a medical malpractice case where plaintiffs, the parents of a hospital patient, sued multiple defendants when the patient died after receiving care in the emergency room. The patient had knee surgery and presented to the emergency room eight days later complaining of chest pain. The doctors performed many tests and the patient was sent home after the pain resolved. Two weeks later, the symptoms resurfaced and the patient returned to the emergency room. He later died from a bilateral pulmonary embolism. The trial court granted summary judgment to the doctor on the plaintiffs’ professional negligence claim and plaintiffs appealed.

The Court of Appeals applied a “gross negligence” standard, given that the doctor was providing emergency care at the time of the patient’s death and affirmed the grant of summary judgment to the doctor based on the fact that Plaintiffs could not prove “by clear and convincing evidence that [the doctor] failed to exercise even slight care in treating [the patient].” The Georgia Supreme Court granted certiorari to determine whether “the Court of Appeals err[ed] in its application of the gross negligence standard for emergency room malpractice under OCGA § 51-1-29.5(c).” The Supreme Court is expected to make a decision by the end of the year. The Court’s ruling could narrow the circumstances under which a medical professional is considered to be providing emergency medical services, in which case, the “gross negligence” standard of care may apply in fewer cases in the future. This will be detrimental to healthcare providers, as it would hold them to a higher standard of care in situations that are arguably emergent.