Top Georgia court to decide whether medical school faculty members are liable for malpractice

Thursday, Jan. 17, 2013 8:30 AM
Last updated Friday, Jan. 18, 2013 4:03 PM
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ATHENS, Ga. — A court appeal by two doctors will determine whether physicians on the faculty of Geor­gia Regents University are professionally liable for malpractice or protected from lawsuits by being state employees.

Georgia Supreme Court justices heard attorneys plead their case Wednesday during a hearing at the Uni­ver­sity of Georgia Law School in front of 120 students and professors. The court usually holds one day of arguments outside of chambers to give the public and students the chance to see it in action.

The case involves the treatment of a 5-day-old infant, who was operated on in 2005 for a life-threatening twisting of the intestine. The child is now 9 and brain damaged as a result of a period without oxygen, according to the suit against neonatalogist Prem Singh Shekhawat and anesthesiologist Wayne Mathews Jr.

Both physicians say they are immune from lawsuits because of their faculty status. Attorneys for the boy’s parents convinced the Georgia Court of Appeals that even though the two are employed by the University System of Georgia, physicians’ duty to their patients trumps their employee immunity.

Complicating the case is the relationship of MCG Health Inc. and Physicians Practice Group, two nonprofit corporations created by the university system. The doctors’ attorney, Annarita Busbee, argued that the companies merely provide support functions for the physicians, who are salaried employees of the state.

The family’s attorney, Josh Wages, say the corporations were created to protect taxpayers, leaving the doctors liable for malpractice.

“It’s a private corporation. It has the ability to sue and be sued,” he said.

Justice Harold Melton disagreed.

“They are tied to the state. They cannot be divorced from the state,” he said.

In an earlier case, the court ruled that the faculty of the state’s medical school can be sued by a patient seen in a private practice.

Busbee said teaching doctors are required to take on risky patients to demonstrate techniques to students and as a state mission to care for everyone in need.

Shekhawat and Mathews were on call when a physician at another hospital referred the infant to them, making them obligated to treat him in a way they would not have been in private practice, Busbee said.

Ruling against the doctors, she warned, could discourage physicians from endangering their careers to fulfill that responsibility.

The court will rule in three or four months.

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Techfan
6461
Points
Techfan 01/17/13 - 09:59 am
4
1
Oh goody!!! I want to be

Oh goody!!! I want to be immune from any lawsuits too. Think how fun it would be if we could screw up all of the time with impunity. "2 more pitchers of margaritas please, and make it snappy. I've got to go pick up the kids."

BDnSC
6
Points
BDnSC 01/17/13 - 10:00 am
4
1
Easy to decide

Do the doctors carry malpractice insurance? Does the hospital?
If so, then why? Pay up.
If not, shouldn't there be a discaimer for both?
Too bad the article doesn't explain how a child ends up deprived of oxygen while he is having surgery on his intestines.

Riverman1
79008
Points
Riverman1 01/17/13 - 12:56 pm
6
1
BDnSC, lack of oxygen could

BDnSC, lack of oxygen could happen in any type case if you think about it. If the patient is intubated on a ventilator interruptions in oxygen flow are possible. This is not forgiving what happened, however. They should be sued. How can any hospital open to the public have their physicians exempt from malpractice claims? If the court rules that way, you would be a fool to be treated at Frog Hollow-MCG. Just because difficult patients are accepted does not mean careless treatment can be excused. Difficult patients are treated to the medical standards of other patients even if the outcome is not always as good. An infant having intestinal surgery is NOT a difficult case, by the way.

Beachgal
354
Points
Beachgal 01/17/13 - 10:36 am
4
0
Just for clarification...

"according to the suit against surgeon Prem Singh Shekhawat"

A minor detail I'm sure, but Dr. Shekhawat is a Neonatologist not a surgeon. He would not have operated on the child, he would have been managing his care in the NICU.

On another note, I am terribly sorry for what the family has been going through. I worked in the NICU for most of my career. It can be both rewarding and heartbreaking.

soapy_725
43551
Points
soapy_725 01/17/13 - 10:43 am
2
0
Neligence and Loss.
Unpublished

You have to prove it. You need both. But, Jesus got it right. Woe to the doctors and lawyers. Most people have liability insurance. Personal and property. But certain entities are exempt from the law because they routinely deal with life and death. We live in a country where we have equal rights? If your negligence causes a death are you punished?

GnipGnop
11429
Points
GnipGnop 01/17/13 - 11:17 am
4
2
I have a question...

When Obamacare kicks in 100% will all doctors technically be state employees? Think about it..

Sean Moores
785
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Sean Moores 01/17/13 - 11:18 am
3
0
@Beachgal

I am checking on that right now. It looks like you are right, but I am waiting on the reporter to verify. Thanks.

Sean Moores
785
Points
Sean Moores 01/17/13 - 11:31 am
3
0
@Beachgal

Walter says you are correct. I have fixed it in the story. Thank you.

dichotomy
30344
Points
dichotomy 01/17/13 - 11:47 am
2
1
Seems to me that irregardless

Seems to me that irregardless of how complicated the intestinal surgery is or is not, the practice of keeping a good oxygen flow to the patient is a basic medical responsibility and SOMEBODY, be it the doctors or the state, should be able to be sued whether they are found negligent or not. That is for a jury to decide.

americafirst
958
Points
americafirst 01/17/13 - 12:18 pm
2
0
The article doesn't tell the

The article doesn't tell the whole story. In a case of alleged malpractice occurring at MCG, a suit can be brought against the state under the GeorgiaTort Claims Act but not against state employees. The recovery is limited to $1 million. Suits against the employees at MCG including the docs are efforts to get around the million dollar cap. The docs have tons of malpractice coverage which cannot be tapped if the million dollar cap can't be circumvented.

Sweet son
9649
Points
Sweet son 01/17/13 - 01:01 pm
1
2
Bet if you checked.................

both docs had malpractice insurance paid for by Physicians Group as a benefit.

soapy_725
43551
Points
soapy_725 01/17/13 - 05:40 pm
1
0
And you have to have other physicians testify
Unpublished

that a fellow physician was negligent, even if you had proven loss of life or function. Expert testimony. Good luck on part Three.

The anesthesiologist is supposed to keep you alive while the surgeon cuts up your body tissue.

KSL
120667
Points
KSL 01/17/13 - 09:35 pm
2
1
And this happened in 2005?

And this happened in 2005?

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