The Georgia Court of Appeals has held that multiple plaintiffs could not recover against a hospital based on forged mammogram reports by its employee. The plaintiffs received mammograms at the hospital in 2008 and 2009. The employee was supposed to transmit the images to a radiologist for interpretation. Instead, for reasons unknown, the employee forged the reports as normal. The hospital discovered the forgeries, terminated the employment, refunded the money, and the employee was prosecuted.
Plaintiffs sued for malpractice, fraud, RICO violations, and other torts. Plaintiffs alleged that the proper interpretation of the mammograms showed evidence of cancer or other conditions that needed follow-up. Notably, the plaintiffs had follow-up mammograms after the fraud was discovered. To this, the plaintiffs claimed exposure to excess radiation. The Court held that Plaintiffs could not prevail on this claim without proof that they actually suffered “injuries” from having to undergo the second mammograms. In addition, the Court held that the plaintiffs failed to prove they suffered compensable damages as a result of the alleged fraud.
This is an interesting case because it would seem that the fraud itself – caused a sufficient legal injury to justify nominal damages and, potentially, punitive damages, against the employee but not the employer. However, it does not appear that issue was the subject of the appeal.
The case is Houston Hospitals, Inc. v. Felder, 2019 WL 2482099 (June 14, 2019).
In a lengthy ruling covering many issues related to a trial, the Georgia Court of Appeals affirmed the exclusion of a doctor’s past substance abuse issues on the grounds of relevance. In the case of Doherty v. Brown, et al., issued on November 18, 2016, the Court addressed numerous issues arising out of a $22 million verdict against a pain physician and his practice group. The Plaintiff claimed that the doctor’s past substance abuse issues went to the question of “patient safety.” The doctor moved in limine and the trial court granted the motion. When Plaintiff attempted to bring it up at trial, the doctor objected and the trial court sustained the objection. On appeal, Plaintiff claimed the evidence should have been admitted. The Court disagreed, holding that the trial court properly exercised its discretion to exclude the evidence because there was no proof the doctor was impaired at the time of the surgery at issue.
The take-home is that the appellate courts have repeatedly held that evidence of a physician’s past substance use or abuse is not relevant to the issue of malpractice unless there is proof of impairment at the time of the incident.
We reported about the Malatesta v. Brookwood Medical Center case as part of our writings on obstetric violence. The Malatestas sued Brookwood, alleging they were misled about the types of alternative birth services that were offered. The Malatestas wanted a water birth with minimal medical intervention and Brookwood allegedly represented they had full capability to accommodate the birth plan. The Malatestas alleged that when they went in for the delivery, no one was aware of the birth plan and she was subjected to multiple medical interventions over her objections. Recently, the case went to trial and the jury returned a $16 million verdict, which included $10 million in compensatory damages and $1 million for loss of consortium. With the recent release of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists’ practice bulletin on patient autonomy and now this verdict, there is a larger trend of informed refusal and patient autonomy cases may be starting.