Gaulden v. Green (Summary)


Gaulden v. Green, No. A12A1872 (Ga. Ct. App. Oct. 30, 2012)

The Court of Appeals of Georgia affirmed a trial court’s holding that claims against a physician could not be construed as ordinary negligence, as opposed to professional negligence, and it reversed the trial court’s holding that a supervising physician was immune from liability on the grounds that no physician-patient relationship existed.

In the case, a patient presented to an emergency room with chest pain and did not receive an anticoagulant for an hour.  She died from a heart attack four hours after her arrival.  The delay in the treatment of the patient stemmed from confusion among the emergency room staff as to whether the hospital’s chest pain standing orders (“standing order”) required physician approval before a nurse could commence diagnostic treatment of a patient presenting with chest pain.  The Medical Director of the Emergency Department drafted the standing order and was responsible for supervising the emergency department’s physicians and department functions.

The patient’s daughter filed suit against the Medical Director, alleging ordinary and professional negligence.  First, the court of appeals held that the Medical Director could not be held liable for ordinary negligence because his duties involved medical questions that demanded the exercise of professional judgment and skill.  Second, the court of appeals considered whether the Medical Director could be held liable for professional negligence.  Here, the Medical Director argued that he was immune from liability because he had not established a physician-patient relationship with the patient.  However, the court of appeals concluded that Georgia law permits a professional negligence claim against a physician when that physician fails to fulfill his supervisory duties.  Noting the confusion among the emergency department staff regarding the standing order, the court of appeals concluded that a question remained as to whether the Medical Director had failed to fulfill his supervisory duties.  Accordingly, the court held that the Medical Director could face a professional negligence claim despite the absence of a physician-patient relationship.