Georgia Supreme Court rules COVID judicial emergency extends lawsuit’s timeframe

(The Center Square) — A Georgia Supreme Court ruling has given new life to a Northwest Georgia medical malpractice lawsuit thanks to an emergency order handed down amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Supreme Court reversed a Georgia Court of Appeals decision that a medical malpractice lawsuit filed in October 2021 against Floyd Medical Center, now Atrium Health Floyd, was time-barred and could not proceed. The lawsuit was initially filed in federal court in June 2018 and dismissed without prejudice in 2021; a renewal was filed in Floyd County Superior Court.

On March 14, 2020, amid the pandemic, former Chief Justice Harold D. Melton issued a statewide judicial emergency. In a Tuesday opinion written by Justice Carla Wong McMillian, the state’s highest court found that the Judicial Emergency Act of 2004 empowers an “authorized judicial official” to “suspend, toll, extend, or otherwise grant relief from” a statute of repose.

A Floyd County Superior Court judge denied Floyd Medical’s motion to dismiss on the basis that the five-year medical malpractice statute of repose expired in July 2021, leading to the Court of Appeals decision. Floyd Medical contended that the Judicial Emergency Act does not allow the suspension of a statute of repose, as the law does not specifically mention it, and the hospital claimed that doing so would violate its due process rights.

However, the Supreme Court concluded that “it is clear and unambiguous that statutes of repose fall within the meaning of ‘deadlines'” under the Judicial Emergency Act. “The COVID emergency orders suspended, tolled, extended, and otherwise granted relief from the application of a statute of repose,” the Supreme Court ruled.

All justices concurred with the opinion. Presiding Justice Nels S.D. Peterson and Justice Andrew A. Pinson were recused from the case.

The Center Square could not reach Floyd Medical Center’s communications department for a response.