Every law student is taught in the first year of law school that in order to win a case for “negligence”, the victim has to show four elements: duty, breach, causation and damages. Most simply put, “negligence” effectively means someone failed to properly do something.
The Georgia Court of Appeals recently held that a trial court properly granted summary judgment to the defendants on a plaintiff’s ordinary negligence claim because the plaintiff failed to come forward with evidence showing any specific act or omission on the part of the employee was the cause of her fall from a physician’s examining table and resulting injuries.
The 80-year-old plaintiff went to the medical center both for a physical exam and because she was feeling sick. She said she’d been coughing and feeling bad for a couple of weeks, and the day before she came in, she’d felt quite poorly. Her adult daughter accompanied her into the examination room. After entering the examination room, a medical center employee told her to sit on the examination table.
She told the employee that she wasn’t “feeling good and [she] was feeling dizzy and [she] needed to see the doctor.” When the employee left the room, the plaintiff’s adult daughter said that she thought that she was standing beside her mother. The plaintiff’s daughter also said that after the employee left the room, she turned to take her coat off. As she turned back around, she saw her mother fall off the table. The plaintiff sustained injuries to her back, neck, and head during the fall.
The plaintiff filed a negligence suit against the medical center and its employee seeking damages. The medical center filed a motion for summary judgment which the trial court granted in a summary order. On appeal, the plaintiff claimed that the trial court erred by granting the medical center’s motion for summary judgment.
The Court of Appeals Decision
Presiding Judge Brian M. Rickman wrote in his opinion for the Court of Appeals that while as a general proposition, issues of negligence aren’t susceptible of summary adjudication either for or against the claimant, where the facts show by plain, palpable, and undisputed evidence that the defendant wasn’t at fault, such a case may be resolved by summary judgment as a matter of law.
In addition, negligence isn’t to be presumed but is “a matter for affirmative proof.” Without some affirmative proof of negligence, the court must “presume performance of duty and freedom from negligence.” Importantly, the fact that an accident happened, and a plaintiff suffered injury “establishes no basis for recovery unless the plaintiff comes forward with evidence showing that the accident was caused by the defendant’s negligence.” That’s because “guesses or speculation which raise merely a conjecture or possibility are not sufficient to create even an inference of fact for consideration on summary judgment.” Here, Judge Rickman explained that the plaintiff must introduce evidence that “affords a reasonable basis for the conclusion that it is more likely than not that the conduct of the defendant was a cause in fact of the result.” In other words, a mere possibility of such causation isn’t enough.
Here, the plaintiff failed to present evidence showing that any specific act or omission on the part of the employee was the cause in fact of her fall and resulting injuries. The employee didn’t leave the plaintiff in the examination room unattended. She left the plaintiff in the room with her adult daughter who was “standing by her” at the time.
Accordingly, the Court of Appeals found that the trial court properly granted summary judgment to The medical center on The plaintiff’s ordinary negligence claim. The judgment was affirmed. Thurman v. TCFPA Family Med. Ctrs., P.C., 358 Ga. App. 439, 855 S.E.2d 431 (Ga. App. February 18, 2021).
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