Recently a state appellate court issued an opinion in a case in which a woman appealed a directed verdict in favor of a defendant in a Georgia medical malpractice lawsuit involving the alleged negligence of an oral surgeon. The woman alleged that she suffered serious facial burns while undergoing oral surgery. The record indicates that the defendant provided the woman with treatment for severe jaw pain. After conservative treatment methods failed, the defendant performed intraoral surgery to address the issues causing her pain. Right after surgery, the defendant noticed that the woman’s face was swelling, but attributed it to normal swelling following this type of surgery. When the swelling and pain did not resolve, the surgeon referred her to a plastic surgeon, and she was subsequently diagnosed with second and third-degree burns. The woman filed a lawsuit against the oral surgeon seeking damages for her injuries under Georgia medical malpractice laws.
During the trial, the defendant testified that he was aware that a piece of the saw could overheat and potentially burn the patient, but that during the plaintiff’s surgery, he never felt the tool heat up. During testimony, he claimed that he did not know how the burns happened, but the only logical conclusion is that the handpiece malfunctioned and transmitted heat to the part that was lying on her face. He said he understood that these tools could overheat, and he took the necessary steps to prevent overheating and injury to the patient.
The plaintiff presented an expert who opined that the woman suffered burns because the handpiece overheated. The expert explained that because the tools are known to overheat, the applicable standard of care requires surgeons to take steps to prevent the tool from burning the patient. The expert concluded that the surgeon breached his standard duty of care because there are ways to take measures to prevent the tool from contacting the skin. However, he conceded that his opinion was based on the fact that the plaintiff suffered a burn during surgery. The defendant moved for a directed verdict, claiming that the plaintiff was basing her case on a res ipsa loquitor theory, which is not applicable in Georgia medical malpractice cases.