Georgia Court Discusses the Doctrine of Intervening Cause in Recent Personal Injury Case

Earlier this month, an appellate court issued an opinion in a Georgia wrongful death case involving the plaintiffs’ claims that the defendant medical providers failed to provide appropriate care to their mentally unstable son, which resulted in his death. The case presented a unique opportunity for the court to discuss the doctrine of intervening cause, which acts to preclude a plaintiff’s case against a defendant when another party’s actions sever the causative chain of events initiated by the defendant.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiffs were the parents of a young man who was admitted to the hospital after he reported hallucinating and hearing voices. The doctors at the hospital evaluated the young man, diagnosed him with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and were planning on discharging him from the hospital later that day.

The plaintiffs asked the doctors if there was anything else they could do to help their son, and the doctors told them that they should schedule an appointment with a mental health care provider. At the plaintiff’s request, the doctors made an appointment at a nearby facility for the plaintiffs’ son to be seen. However, that facility was far away from where the plaintiffs lived, and the plaintiffs had an existing relationship at a university hospital closer to their home, so they made their own appointment at the university hospital.

The plaintiffs embarked to take their son to his appointment. However, on the way, the young man took off his seat belt, opened the door, jumped out of the car, and ran across the highway. He was struck by another motorist and died as a result of the injuries he sustained.

The plaintiffs filed a personal injury case against the medical providers that had previously seen their son, claiming their negligence in discharging their son resulted in his death. In response, the defendants filed a motion for pre-trial summary judgment, arguing that the plaintiffs’ own actions in driving their son to a different appointment constituted an intervening cause.

The trial court denied the defendants’ motion, holding that only “wrongful or negligent” actions can constitute an intervening cause. The defendants appealed.

The Doctrine of Intervening Cause

To establish liability in a Georgia personal injury case, the plaintiff must show that the defendant’s actions were the cause of the injuries or death. In some cases, a defendant may be able to argue that a third party’s actions – or, in this case, the plaintiffs’ own actions – constituted an intervening cause of the accident. If this is the case, a plaintiff will be precluded from recovering damages from the defendant because they will be unable to establish the causation requirement of their claim.

The Court’s Decision

The appellate court agreed with the defendants, finding that the plaintiffs’ actions very well may have constituted an intervening cause. In so holding, the appellate court noted that the lower court’s interpretation of the intervening cause doctrine was incorrect and that an act need not be “wrongful or negligent” to constitute an intervening cause. As a result of the court’s decision, the plaintiffs will not be permitted to seek compensation from the defendants for the loss of their son.

Have You Lost a Loved One in a Georgia Accident?

If you have recently lost a loved one in a Georgia accident, you may be entitled to monetary compensation through a Georgia wrongful death lawsuit. While the doctrine of intervening cause is important for Georgia personal injury plaintiffs to understand, it rarely acts to preclude liability. To learn more, and to speak with a dedicated Georgia wrongful death attorney about your case, contact one of the skilled and knowledgeable attorneys at McAleer Law. With decades of experience handling all types of Georgia personal injury and wrongful death cases, we know what it takes to succeed on our clients’ behalf. Call 404-622-5337 to schedule a free consultation today.

See More Posts:

Georgia Supreme Court Dismisses Defendant’s Summary Judgment Challenge in Recent Premises Liability Opinion, Georgia Injury Attorney Blog, October 18, 2017.

Georgia Court Refuses to Enforce Clause in Insurance Contract against the Insured, Georgia Injury Attorney Blog, November 7, 2017.