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GA: Dr. known to be alcoholic botched surgery: did hospital have duty to disclose addiction?

CASE FACTS: Dr. Michael Williams performed a laproscopic cholecystectomy on Gloria Booker on March 29, 2001, at Meadows Regional Medical Center. During Gloria's First post-operative visit on April 6, 2001, Dr. Williams observed that she appeared jaundiced and ordered tests. Suspecting a bile duct injury, he referred Gloria to another physician on April 11,2001. The following day, Gloria underwent surgery for a bilateral catheter placement. The surgeon later removed surgical clips that Dr. Williams had placed in the abdomen during the first surgery, some of which had occluded her common bile duct. On March 28,2003, Gloria filed suit against Dr. Williams and the hospital alleging that the doctor violated the standard of care in improperly placing the clips, which caused her to suffer a bile duct injury, as well as failing to timely diagnose the bile duct injury. She also alleged that Dr. Williams was addicted to alcohol and that his alcoholism impaired his ability to perform surgery. Last, but not least, she alleged that the hospital was aware of Dr. Williams' alcohol addiction and violated its duty to disclose his addiction to her. Dr. Williams and the hospital filed a motion for summary judgment on the issue of Dr. Williams' alcohol addiction. The trial court denied their motion. The defendants appealed.

COURT'S OPINION: The Court of Appeals of Georgia reversed the judgment of the lower court, holding, inter alia, that pretermitting whether a hospital has a duty to inform a patient, who is being treated at the hospital, that the patient's physician is currently abusing alcohol or drugs. The court found that there was no evidence in the case that at the time of the surgery, the hospital knew, or had any reason to suspect, that Dr. Williams had relapsed and had been using alcohol. Consequently, the court concluded that the trial court had erred in denying the defendants' motion for summary judgment on the failure-to-inform claim. The court found that although it was undisputed that Dr. Williams was an alcoholic and had consumed significant amounts of alcohol prior to his treatment for alcoholism, as well as during a period when he relapsed, there was no evidence that he was under the influence of alcohol when he performed the surgery on Gloria. The court noted that Dr. Williams testified at a deposition that he never consumed alcohol within 24 hours of any surgery. Accordingly, the court determined that whether or not Dr. Williams had been under the influence of alcohol when he erred in performing surgery on Gloria, and whether the hospital had a duty to inform her of the fact that he was an alcoholic were matters which should have resulted in the granting of the defendants' motion for summary judgment. Williams v. Booker, Al 1A0634 - 5 (6/21/2011)-G A
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Title Annotation:Hospital Law Decisions of Note
Publication:Hospital Law's Regan Report
Date:Jul 1, 2011
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