Georgia Supreme Court to hear malpractice case

ALBANY, Ga. -- When 15-year-old Shaquille Johnson died from blood clots in his lungs despite emergency room treatment at Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital, his parents sued the attending E.R. physician and Southwest Emergency Physicians P.C. for medical malpractice. The Johnsons’ case failed in a lower court and the Georgia Court of Appeals, but early next week it will be heard by the Georgia Supreme Court.

According to Supreme Court statements: In late December, Shaquille Johnson had undergone arthroscopic knee surgery to repair a football injury. Eight days after the surgery, the teen returned to the E.R. complaining of pain on the left side of his chest. He was attended by Dr. Price Paul Omondi, an emergency room physician.

Ormondi later testified that he ordered a chest x-ray and an EKG, according to court records, as well as a number of other standard tests. Ormondi determined that Johnson was suffering from pleurisy, prescribed Naprosyn for pain and discharged him with no further treatment.

Court records state that two weeks later, on Jan. 13, 2008, complaining of chest pain and difficulty in breathing, Johnson was transported by ambulance to Phoebe, where he later died from a bilateral pulmonary embolism — blood clots in both lungs.

According to the Georgia Supreme Court, the suit filed by Johnson’s parents, Thelma and Sheldon Johnson, was decided in favor of Ormondi as a summary judgment without benefit of a jury trial, both in lower court and later in the Georgia Court of Appeals. Next week’s Supreme Court hearing will decide if the Johnsons are entitled to a jury trial.

In short, Georgia’s emergency medical care statute, 51-1-29.5, states that physicians acting in an emergency care situation need only provide “slight” care in order to avoid a judgment of “gross negligence,” according to the Georgia Supreme Court.

The Johnsons are said to have secured statements from two nationally recognized experts in emergency medicine contending that Shaquille Johnson’s medical symptoms constituted a classic presentation of pulmonary embolism that could have been uncovered if Ormondi had ordered a chest CT scan and an ultrasound of the teen’s injured leg.