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Georgia Supreme Court Says Hospital Can Be Liable for Successful Intubation

A woman whose mother was intubated and kept alive until her kidneys shut down — despite her wishes stated in an advance directive — can sue the healthcare provider for breach of agreement, negligence, battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress, according to a July 5 decision by the Georgia Supreme Court. The court upheld a trial court’s decision to deny the defense’s request for summary judgment, saying, “Although there is evidence to the contrary, there is ample evidence that [when he intubated the patient]…Dr. Catalano was not acting in good faith reliance” on any decision the patient’s agent for healthcare had made. This decision makes it clear that doctors and hospitals can be sued if they disregard a patient’s advance directive.

The patient in the case was 90-year-old Bucilla Stephenson, who had submitted an advance directive to Doctors Hospital, appointing her daughter Jaqueline as her agent for healthcare decisions and checking the “Not to prolong life” box. Jaqueline gave the doctors specific instructions not to administer CPR or take heroic measure to preserve her mother’s life and not to intubate her unless they conferred with her (Jaqueline) first. Yet, the doctors did all of the above and then told Jacqueline that if they extubated her mother without lung surgery, she would suffocate. Mrs. Stephenson was on a ventilator for about a week when her kidneys started to fail, at which point Jacqueline decided to take her mother off the ventilator.

The Georgia Supreme Court’s decision means that trial can proceed on the merits of the case. What this means for consumers of healthcare services is that they have a right to make their own decisions about the limits of lifesaving care they will accept. Healthcare providers are only immune from liability if they act in good faith reliance on a healthcare agent’s decision or if they notify the agent they cannot in good conscience honor the decision. The healthcare providers in this case did not satisfy the court they had met those requirements for immunity.

If you have been seriously injured due to hospital negligence in metro Atlanta or anywhere throughout Georgia, McMenamy Law LLC may be able to help. To schedule a free consultation with a dedicated attorney, contact us right away.