Court Addresses Assumption of Risk Jury Instruction in Georgia Medical Malpractice Lawsuit

The Supreme Court of Georgia recently issued an opinion discussing whether an assumption-of-the-risk jury instruction was appropriate in a medical malpractice lawsuit. According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff visited a care clinic after experiencing chest pain. The clinic’s doctor prescribed the man a blood pressure medication and referred him to a heart surgeon. The heart surgeon’s test revealed that a portion of the plaintiff’s heart was experiencing diminished blood flow. The surgeon advised the plaintiff to continue using the blood pressure medication, an additional blood pressure medication, and a blood clotting medication. He did not warn the plaintiff of the medications’ side effects of dizziness or losing consciousness. The surgeon also performed a procedure, during which he discovered a 99% blocked artery.

Following the procedures, the surgeon provided the plaintiff with post-surgical instructions, stating that he was not to engage in risky activities, including lifting more than ten pounds, bending, or stooping for one week. A discharge nurse also discussed these limitations, and the plaintiff acknowledged his understanding. However, there were conflicts of what precisely the discharge recommendations stated.

About five days after the procedure, the plaintiff was hunting in rough terrain and fainted while he was on an 18-foot deer stand. He sustained serious injuries from the fall, including fractured vertebrae. The plaintiff sued the cardiology office and his surgeon, alleging that he suffered injuries because the surgeon prescribed too much blood pressure medication.

At trial, the court gave a charge to the jury discussing the plaintiff’s potential assumption of risk. The plaintiff objected to the charge which included instructions that a “person cannot hold another liable for injuries when a person knowingly and voluntarily takes the risk of physical injury”, that is so “obvious that the risk in and of itself amounts to a failure to exercise ordinary care of his safety.” The charge also stated that to establish that the plaintiff assumed the risk, the defendant must prove that the plaintiff proceeded with an activity, even though he had subjective knowledge of a specific threat of harm associated with the activity that proximately caused the injury. The trial court found in favor of the defendants, the court of appeals reversed the ruling, and the defendants appealed to the state’s supreme court.

Under Georgia law, there only needs to be slight evidence supporting a jury instruction. The evidence does not need to be directly on point, as long as there is some evidence from which a jury could make the necessary inference. Defendants must prove that the plaintiff had actual knowledge of the danger, understood the risks, and voluntarily exposed himself to the risk. In previous cases, plaintiffs have succeeded on these issues when there was a total lack of evidence that they assumed a known risk. However, courts may impute knowledge of risk in situations where the risk is clear, and the plaintiff is competent.

In this case, the court was not tasked with determining whether the plaintiff assumed a risk, but rather whether there was evidence to support the instruction. The plaintiff asserted that the instruction was improper because he did not know about the specific fainting risk. However, the court found that even though the surgeon did not explain the particular risks, the plaintiff should have known of the apparent dangers of engaging in strenuous activity after heart surgery. Ultimately, the court found that the jury charge was appropriate.

Have You Been Injured Because of a Negligent Healthcare Provider?

If you or someone you know has been injured as a result of a negligent healthcare provider, the attorneys at McAleer Law may be able to help you recover compensation for your damages through a Georgia medical malpractice lawsuit. The attorneys at our law firm understand the financial, medical, and psychological toll that medical negligence can have on a persona and their loved ones. We work tirelessly on behalf of our clients to ensure that their rights and remedies are appropriately effectuated. We also handle Georgia car accident cases, slip and fall, and wrongful death claims. Contact our office at 404-622-5337 to schedule a free initial consultation with a Georgia injury attorney at our law firm.

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