Physicians in Georgia and around the country have an ethical duty to preserve their patients’ confidentiality, but the law sometimes requires them to breach this duty. Doctors are required to notify the authorities when a patient is suffering from a highly contagious disease that poses a threat to the community, and they must inform the police when they treat a gunshot would. Doctors are also required to report obvious signs of child abuse or neglect.
Medical malpractice lawsuits
In some states, doctors who fail to report child abuse can face medical malpractice lawsuits as well as official sanctions. This was established in a California case involving a child who had injuries consistent with battered child syndrome. The doctor who treated the child failed to report the abuse, and he was later sued by the child’s guardian. The court ruled that the doctor was liable because the care he provided did not meet acceptable medical standards and was the proximate cause of the child’s subsequent injuries.
Civil liability for failing to report in Georgia
The California case would have been dismissed in Georgia because failing to report child abuse does not provide a civil cause of action in the state. This was tested in 2006 when a mother sued a therapist who had failed to report that her daughter was being sexually abused. A trail court denied the therapists motion for summary judgement, but this decision was overturned by the Georgia Court of Appeals.
Official sanctions only
This ruling makes it clear that doctors who fail to report child abuse in Georgia cannot be sued for medical malpractice. This will only change if lawmakers pass legislation that revises the reporting rules. In the meantime, parents and caregivers in Georgia should be thankful that doctors who fail to report child abuse can be sent to jail for up to a year.