Healthcare Business News

Ga. Supreme Court upholds tort reform provision

By Gregg Blesch
Posted: March 16, 2010 - 9:00 am ET

The Georgia Supreme Court upheld a provision of the state's 2005 tort reform law that requires that plaintiffs prove “gross negligence” to win a malpractice lawsuit over emergency care.

The lawsuit argues that 269-bed St. Francis Hospital in Columbus, the treating physician, and the physician's practice were negligent because a CT scan wasn't ordered for a woman whose brain aneurysm was undetected when she was brought to the hospital's emergency room by ambulance in 2007.

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Before the case was tried, the plaintiffs filed a challenge to the constitutionality of the higher burden the law places on cases involving emergency care. The question was appealed to the Georgia Supreme Court, which upheld the law in a 4-3 decision.

The majority rejected arguments that the law violates the state constitution's “uniformity clause” because it creates a higher liability standard for certain providers, and that it deprives patients of due process because their access to a legal remedy is different depending on the setting in which they're treated.

Gary Richter, president of the Medical Association of Georgia, applauded the decision in a written statement, saying the law has brought the state a larger and more stable physician population. The court is expected to rule soon in another case involving a challenge to the law's cap on non-economic damages, Richter said.

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