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How “Proximate Cause” Affects a Georgia Personal Injury Case


In a personal injury lawsuit, the plaintiff has the burden of establishing not just that the defendant was negligent, but that negligence was also the proximate cause of the plaintiff’s injuries. Put simply, proximate cause means that “but-for” the defendant’s actions, the plaintiff would not have been harmed. That harm must also have been a likely or “probable” result of the defendant’s negligence.

It is possible for a defendant to disprove proximate cause by showing there was some “intervening act” or event that broke the chain of causation. Basically, if something happens after the defendant’s negligent act that contributes to, or worsens, the plaintiff’s injury, that can let the defendant off the hook in any personal injury claim.

Georgia Courts Rule Doctors Not Legally Responsible for Death of Tennessee Man

A recent decision from the Georgia Court of Appeals, Ferguson v. Bowers, provides an illustration of what we mean. This case involved the tragic death of a 27-year-old man who had been diagnosed with schizophrenia and other mental disorders. The victim and his father were traveling from North Carolina back to their home in Tennessee when they passed through Georgia. The victim asked his father to pull over. The victim then got out of the car and ran away.

The father called 911. Police subsequently found the victim “naked and barefoot at a construction site two miles away,” according to court records. He was then taken to a local hospital for a psychiatric evaluation. A doctor subsequently placed the victim on an involuntary hold.

After a couple of days, the hospital staff agreed to discharge the victim to the custody of his parents so they could take him home to Tennessee and be treated by his regular doctor. But the victim ran away again, this time eluding hospital security. The victim’s father again contacted the police for help locating his son. A deputy did find the victim a few hours later but did not detain him. Three days later, his body was found in a lake three miles from the hospital. The medical examiner determined the cause of death was accidental drowning.

The victim’s parents subsequently filed a medical malpractice lawsuit against the doctors who treated their son before he escaped. They claimed the hospital was negligent in discharging their son without reassessing his condition first. The defendants moved to dismiss, arguing the parents could not establish any negligence on their part, even if proven, was the proximate cause of death.

The trial court agreed and dismissed the case. A divided three-judge panel of the Court of Appeals upheld the trial court’s decision. The majority noted there was simply no evidence tying the victim’s discharge and subsequent escape to his accidental drowning death three days later. And the victim’s encounter with the deputy shortly after his escape qualified as an “intervening act” that broke any possible chain of causation.

Contact Hawkins Spizman Trial Lawyers Today

When it comes to a medical malpractice case, you should never assume that just because the doctors did something wrong that they are always responsible as a matter of law. This is why you need to work with an experienced Atlanta personal injury lawyer who can help you in building the strongest case possible. Contact Hawkins Spizman Trial Lawyers today to schedule a free consultation. We serve clients throughout Georgia including Atlanta, Dunwoody, Alpharetta, Cobb County, Fulton County, Gwinnett County, Johns Creek and Sandy Springs.


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