Limited Informed Consent Rights in Georgia

Until 1988, the doctrine of informed consent was not followed in Georgia. This meant doctors didn’t have a duty to disclose the risks of medical treatments. In 1988, the Georgia legislature adopted a statute that required informed consent, but only in relationship to six specific categories. These include the patient’s diagnosis that made the procedure necessary, the nature of the procedure, the recognized risks of infection and other issues associated, the likelihood that the procedure would be successful, the practical alternatives to the procedure, and the patient’s prognosis if the procedure is rejected.
A recent case ruled that morphine administration does not require informed consent because it is not a procedure specified in the statute. A plaintiff had sued a doctor and hospital for the wrongful death of her mother. The decedent was in her late 70s when she died. She suffered from end-stage chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which resulted in her airway being obstructed. She experienced a severe shortness of breath and was admitted to the hospital.
She was treated by a pulmonologist, and after a few days in the hospital, she started to improve. However, at some point, her condition worsened and she started to experience respiratory trouble. Doctors responded.
The defendant doctor came in to intubate the plaintiff’s mother. Another doctor stopped him. However, at a later point, the defendant changed the chart to order 20 milligrams of morphine in one dose without checking with anyone else. The nurse administered the morphine. The woman lost consciousness and died about three hours later.
The plaintiff sued the doctor and hospital for the wrongful death of her mother. She claimed the doctor had breached the standard of care by ordering the rapid dose of morphine in a COPD patient, which caused her mother’s death. She also claimed the hospital was vicariously liable for the nurse’s violation of protocol.
At trial, the jury found for the plaintiff and against the defendants. Both defendants asked for a new trial. The trial court agreed. It determined it shouldn’t have allowed an expert to offer opinions about whether the patient had been adequately informed of the risks.
The case was tried again. This time, the jury found liability for the hospital and not the doctor. Again, the hospital filed a motion for new trial. This was denied. The plaintiff appealed regarding the trial court’s granting of the defendants’ motions for new trial. She argued the defendants had waived their objection regarding the expert’s testimony about informed consent.
The plaintiff also argued in the alternative that the trial court erred with regard to informed consent to a trier of fact. The hospital also appealed, challenging the trial court’s denial of its motion for new trial.
The appellate court found that the trial court correctly granted the motion for new trial as to the doctor, but not as to the hospital. The appellate court explained that Georgia doesn’t recognize a common-law duty to inform patients of the risks of medical procedures. In ordering a new trial, the trial court had concluded that the testimony of the plaintiff’s expert pulmonologist impermissibly referenced the doctrine of informed consent. The appellate court explained that Georgia common law does not require a doctor to obtain informed consent from a patient before administering a medical procedure that is not specified in OCGA § 31-9-6.1. Therefore, it was appropriate to grant a new trial for the doctor.
If you are hurt or a loved one is killed due to negligence, you may be able to recover compensation for your losses. Experienced Atlanta personal injury attorney Terrence R. Bethune can evaluate your case and fight for any compensation you may deserve. Contact us at 404-875-7800 or via our online form.
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