As we’ve discussed before, the standard for medical malpractice liability in Georgia varies depending on whether the alleged act of medical malpractice occurs during an emergency situation. Given that the standard for liability is more stringent under Georgia’s emergency room statute, O.C.G.A. § 51-1-29.5, determining whether the statute applies is crucial for obtaining recovery against a possibly negligent medical provider. In a recent decision, Hospital Authority of Valdosta/Lowndes County v. Brinson (PDF-embedded link), the Georgia Court of Appeals looked at the application of the statute to an unfortunate but interesting set of facts, which involved the treatment of an infant who was suffering from infection requiring emergency care but whose symptoms were not immediately noticed by medical personnel.
The infant was brought to the emergency room on September 24, 2010. The infant had been born prematurely two months earlier and was treated for pneumonia only a month after birth. The infant’s mother said she brought him to the ER because he was acting fussy and had been running a fever. In addition, the infant’s baby sitter reported that the day before the infant was lethargic and cringing and experienced fever, diarrhea, and poor oral intake. At the ER, the infant was triaged by a nurse, who examined him and determined that his condition was normal but did not include the aforementioned medical history in notes. The infant was then seen by a physician’s assistant, who determined that the infant seemed pretty healthy, diagnosed the condition as either allergic rhinitis or a cold, and discharged the infant with a prescription for an oral steroid. A supervising physician later reviewed the chart, and though he testified that he would not have prescribed a steroid, concurred with the assessment and course of treatment. The mother returned three days later, as the physician’s assistant had directed her. At this time, the infant presented with a fever of 102.1, diarrhea, vomiting, and abdominal pain. After taking blood and urine samples for further testing, the pediatrician who saw the infant diagnosed the condition as a urinary tract infection and prescribed Tylenol and an antibiotic. The next day, a hospital representative called the mother and told her to bring the infant back immediately because blood test results showed the infant was suffering from a systemic infection. The call proved unnecessary, since the mother was already in transit to the hospital. Upon arrival, the baby was admitted to the hospital and, the following day, transferred to a pediatric intensive care unit at another hospital, where he was diagnosed as having streptococcus meningitis and a stroke.