Georgia Court of Appeals Finds Internal Medicine Physician Qualified to Render Standard of Care Opinions Against a Psychiatrist.
07/28/2022By Colleen Callaghan
The Georgia Court of Appeals recently issued an opinion in Russell v. Kantamneni that eases the burdens imposed by O.C.G.A. § 9-11-9.1 and O.C.G.A. § 24-2-702(c)(2) by finding an internal medicine physician specializing in rheumatology was qualified to render standard of care criticisms against a psychiatrist despite that the expert lacked both experience in psychiatric care and knowledge on the standard of care applicable to a psychiatrist. Russel v Kantamneni, A22A0378, 22 WL 1576068 (Ga. Ct. App. May 19, 2022)
Russell v. Kantamneni involved the care and treatment of a patient who allegedly died of complications from lupus. Plaintiffs, the decedent’s parents, sued a psychiatrist and a psychiatric practice for the alleged failure to diagnose and timely treat the lupus. In accordance with O.C.G.A. § 9-11-9.1, Plaintiffs attached to their complaint the affidavit of an expert physician setting forth the allegations of negligence against the treating providers. This affidavit was authored by an internal medicine physician specializing in rheumatology, who stated that he was qualified to render the subject criticisms because he was familiar with diagnosing and treating lupus. The Defendants moved to dismiss the complaint on the grounds that an internal medicine physician specializing in rheumatology was not qualified to render standard of care opinions against a psychiatrist. The trial court granted the motion to dismiss from the bench, finding that the expert did not have the requisite knowledge or experience to opine on the standard of care applicable to a psychiatrist.
The Plaintiffs appealed, and the Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s dismissal. In its opinion, the Court of Appeals examined the qualifications of the expert and found that he had the necessary experience in diagnosing and treating autoimmune disorders, including lupus, to meet the general requirements of 24-7-702(c). The Court also held that Plaintiffs’ expert met the requirements of 24-7-702(c)(2)(A) as he regularly provided care and treatment, including diagnosis, for patients with autoimmune disorders on a yearly basis for the five years preceding the incident.
The Court of Appeals noted that trial court's order did not disagree with these findings and confirmed the internal medicine physician was generally qualified as an expert in the treatment and diagnosis of lupus. Instead, the trial court determined that he was unqualified to render the subject opinions solely because he had not practiced as a psychiatrist and did not have specialized knowledge on the standard of care of psychiatrists. The Court of Appeals then expressly held that the trial court erred in this determination, stating that Georgia law does not require an expert to have knowledge and experience in the same area of practice or specialty as the defendant doctor to satisfy the requirements of O.C.G.A. 9-11-9.1 and O.C.G.A. 24-2-702. Under this reasoning, the Court of Appeals determined that because the expert had general experience in diagnosing and treating lupus, he was sufficiently qualified to render standard of care opinions against the defendant psychiatrist (and presumably any other specialty whether having anything to do with autoimmune disorders or not) with regards to the alleged failure to diagnose and treat the decedent’s lupus. The Court expressly held that the expert was not required to have ever practiced as a psychiatrist and or have any specialized knowledge on the applicable standard of care for a psychiatrist.
Given this holding, we expect that moving forward it will be more difficult to succeed on motions to dismiss pursuant to O.C.G.A. 9-11-9.1 and motions exclude O.C.G.A. 24-2-702 that are based on the qualifications of a plaintiff’s expert.