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Justices uphold key medical malpractice changes

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ATLANTA --- A sharply divided Georgia Supreme Court on Monday upheld a key part of a sweeping 2005 law that made it more difficult for patients to win medical malpractice cases involving emergency health care providers.

The court's 4-3 ruling was a blow to plaintiffs' attorneys and other critics of the legislation who argued that the higher standard of proof required by the law made it almost impossible for patients to win malpractice claims.

Critics of the law took another hit Monday when the court released a separate ruling, this one by a 5-2 vote, that upheld a provision that allowed one side in a lawsuit to pay the other side's legal fees in some cases. They had argued the practice could discourage many victims from bringing legitimate claims to court.

The court will likely issue a third ruling this month on a lawsuit that challenges the law's $350,000 limit on jury awards for malpractice victims' pain and suffering damages.

The lawsuit involving the emergency room provision was brought by Carol Gliemmo, who said an emergency room doctor at a Columbus hospital failed to detect a debilitating illness in April 2007 when she came in complaining of sudden pain behind her eyes. Two days later her family practitioner ordered a CT scan, which revealed a brain hemorrhage that left her paralyzed. Her family filed a lawsuit claiming the doctor was negligent.

The legislation requires the Gliemmos to prove emergency room doctors acted with "gross negligence." The family claimed the requirement was unconstitutional, saying it's a nearly insurmountable hurdle.

The court's majority opinion found it was "entirely logical" for lawmakers to approve the legislation in hopes of stemming the rising cost of medical malpractice insurance.


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