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New medical malpractice trial granted for disabled Georgia girl

A Georgia girl, disabled at birth by an alleged error on the part of the physician who performed her delivery, is getting a new trial. The Georgia Supreme Court issued that ruling earlier this month.

The original trial in2007 ended with a verdict in favor of the physician and the Athens-area hospital where the delivery was made. The lawsuit charged they were guilty of medical malpractice during the 1998 birth. It said that the doctor's decision to induce delivery, rather than to perform a cesarean section delivery, resulted in the infant suffering brain damage resulting in cerebral palsy. The girl, now a teenager, is confined to a wheelchair, has no control of her movements, requires extraordinary care and suffers frequent seizures.

The original trial judge had limited the amount of time the girl, a party to the malpractice suit, could be in the courtroom in front of the jury. The Georgia Supreme Court held that the trial judge was correctly concerned about the prejudicial, sympathy effect the girl's presence might have on the jury, but ultimately decided that the judge had erred in his decision of how to address that problem.

In a nearly unanimous ruling, the Georgia Supreme Court overturned the jury's verdict and ordered a new trial based upon the right of the party to be present during her own trial.

In dissenting, a single justice expressed his concern that the court had opted not to consider a federal court precedent that recognized the authority of a judge to exclude a party to a suit if their presence would harm the trial process and provide no benefit to that party. But the majority emphasized other procedures the trial judge could have used which were less obstructive to the party's right to be present.

The decision and the ultimate outcome of this case are of great interest to, and will no doubt be watched closely by, victims of medical malpractice in Georgia.

Source: Athens Banner-Herald, "Georgia Supreme Court grants new malpractice trial in disabled girl's 1998 birth at St. Mary's," Joe Johnson, June 18, 2012

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