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Georgia Court of Appeals Overturns Summary Judgment in Negligence Case Involving Nursing and Rehabilitation Center Patient’s Death

When a medical provider’s treatment of a patient falls below the applicable standard of care, a cause of action for medical negligence or wrongful death may lie. Of course, liability is not automatic – even when a patient dies.

The burden of proof in a negligence case, including a case sounding in medical malpractice, is always on the plaintiff. Unless he or she can convince the jury by a preponderance of the evidence, the case fails.

Many wrongful death cases are decided by a judge before a jury even has an opportunity to hear the evidence. This happens via a summary judgment motion. By granting summary judgment, the trial court is effectively saying that the plaintiff has no chance of success at trial, even if everything he or she is saying is true. Fortunately for the plaintiff in such cases, an appellate court may reverse the lower court’s decision if it finds that the trial court erred.

Facts of the Case

In a recent appellate case, the plaintiffs were the administrator of the estate of a deceased woman and certain members of the woman’s family. They filed a wrongful death lawsuit against a nursing home owner and several “John/Jane Does” after their decedent passed away in 2010, seeking both compensatory and punitive damages for the defendants’ alleged negligence and negligence per se. The trial court granted summary judgment to the defendants, and the plaintiffs appealed. In a consolidated matter, the defendants appealed the trial court’s denial of their motion to exclude certain allegedly unreliable testimony given by the plaintiffs’ medical experts.

Holding of the Court of Appeals of Georgia

The appellate court reversed the trial court’s grant of summary judgment to the defendants but affirmed the trial court’s order with respect to the testimony that the defendants sought to exclude. The court first noted that the plaintiffs’ position was that the defendants’ failure to implement an adequate treatment plan to prevent the decedent from developing pressure ulcers ultimately caused the decedent’s death. Since the court found that the plaintiffs had provided evidence such that there were triable issues of material fact on the issue of causation in their negligence case, the court found that summary judgment was not appropriate.

Since the appellate court found that the testimony challenged by the defendants was admissible, it found no abuse of discretion in the trial court’s order denying the defendants’ motion to exclude such testimony. In so holding, the court disagreed with the defendants’ arguments that the testimony was based on unreliable methods, unsupported assertions, or conclusory statements.

For Legal Advice About Your Personal Injury Case

If you have been hurt or have lost a loved one due to another party’s negligence, you should talk to an attorney about filing a claim against the responsible individual, business, or governmental entity. Do not delay in seeking legal advice about a personal injury or wrongful death case, since a failure to file suit within the statute of limitations will likely result in the dismissal of your case. To schedule an appointment with a seasoned Atlanta wrongful death attorney, call the Law Offices of T. Andrew Miller, LLC, at 678-605-9109.