Court Revives Negligent Credentialing, Punitive Damages, And Attorney Fees Claims In Case: The Court of Appeals of Georgia stated in its April 29, 2022 opinion, “the trial court erred when it found that Calvin had offered no evidence (a) that Hamm was unqualified to provide the medical care she rendered to Jerline in August 2019 or (b) of any acts or omissions by Hamm that caused Jerline’s death. In that regard, the affidavits also were sufficient to raise disputed factual issues as to whether the Oracle Defendants satisfied their responsibility to take reasonable steps to ensure that Hamm was qualified to render the type of medical care that was required of one in her position.”
The Underlying Facts
Plaintiff Calvin Miller, individually and as the administrator of the estate of his deceased wife Jerline Miller, filed a Georgia medical malpractice action regarding Jerline’s death on August 29, 2019, following complications she experienced the day before during a visit to Pain Care Center of Georgia (“Pain Care”), for a procedure to alleviate back pain. Calvin’s claims largely centered on the actions of certified registered nurse anesthetist (“CRNA”) Cynthia Hamm, who was on the medical team that treated Jerline at Pain Care on the day in question, but was not a party to the lawsuit.
On August 28, 2019, Jerline was scheduled to undergo a procedure at Pain Care in which Vincent Galan, M.D. (the president of Pain Care, who was not a party to the lawsuit), was to insert a spacer in her spine to alleviate back pain. The medical team for Jerline’s procedure included Hamm (who was to administer anesthesia), another nurse, and one or more other assistants. In anticipation of the procedure, Jerline was administered a sedative (to relax or calm her) and a prophylactic antibiotic. As she was lying face down on the table on which the procedure was to take place, before any anesthesia was administered, Jerline began coughing and had trouble breathing. After the medical team turned Jerline over onto her back, she stopped breathing, and CPR was administered. Because her heart rate was slowing, she was administered atropine, after which her heart rate increased slightly; she also was administered epinephrine due to possible bronchospasms. Also during this time, Hamm inserted a laryngeal mask airway to help Jerline breathe. Emergency personnel eventually were summoned and transported Jerline to a hospital. She died at the hospital the next day of acute respiratory failure due to cardiorespiratory arrest.
The trial court ruled that Calvin’s negligent hiring and retention claims failed because there is no evidence that any acts or omissions by Hamm caused Jerline’s death.
The Court of Appeals of Georgia stated that a negligent credentialing claim is an independent cause of action arising out of a health care institution’s direct responsibility to its patients to take reasonable steps to ensure that medical care providers are qualified.
The Georgia Court of Appeals stated that Calvin submitted expert affidavits by two anesthesiologists (Paul Domson, Jr., M.D., and Jay Ellis, Jr., M.D.) and a CRNA (Brent Sommer). Dr. Ellis attested that, during Jerline’s visit to Pain Care in August 2019, the failure of the medical team (including Hamm) to “provide adequate oxygenation and ventilation” to Jerline resulted in her cardiac arrest and death. CRNA Sommer similarly attested that, during that visit, Hamm deviated from acceptable standards of care in multiple ways and that, as a result, Jerline was transported to the hospital “with a compromised and inadequate airway and oxygenation” and suffered an “untimely death.” Moreover, Dr. Domson attested that: (i) the Oracle Defendants deviated from the standard of care by “fail[ing] to properly credential . . . Hamm and to remove her from service after having knowledge of her professional and mental incompetence” based on Hamm’s criminal and disciplinary history; and (ii) the Oracle Defendants’ negligent credentialing of Hamm was a “significant contributing cause” of Jerline’s death, which would not have occurred if Hamm had not been improperly credentialed by the Oracle Defendants. “Given these expert affidavits — which we must view in a light most favorable to Calvin, see City of St. Marys, 346 Ga. App. at 508-509 — the trial court erred.”
Source Miller v. Polk, A22A0325.
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