Can Medical Practitioners Be Held Liable To a 3rd Party?

Can Medical Practitioners Be Held Liable To a 3rd Party By Stephanie J. Rodin, Esq.Earlier this year, the New York Court of Appeals—the state’s highest court—ruled that physicians and healthcare practitioners could be found liable to third parties.

In Davis v. South Nassau Communities Hospital, 2015 N.Y. Slip Op. 09229 (December 16, 2015), the court extended a physician’s duty of liability and duty of care.

The Fact Pattern

A woman drove herself to the emergency room of the defendant hospital. While at the hospital, she received two different types of morphine-like painkillers. An hour and a half after being administered the two drugs, she was discharged from the hospital. She then went back into her car and drove across a double yellow line, striking a bus driven by the plaintiff Davis.

Liability

Generally, a doctor’s liability is limited to the person they administered treatment to.

The lower court dismissed the suit, stating that the plaintiff didn’t have standing to bring the case: they were not treated by the doctors, and therefore could not sue the hospital.

The matter was appealed and it went before the New York Court of Appeals. The court found that there was a duty of the provider in the hospital to inform the woman, whom was administered the drugs, of the risks and benefits associated with said drugs. Had the woman been made aware of these factors, she would have known that she should not have driven the car, and perhaps, may not have driven her car, thus avoiding the accident.

The court found the hospital (defendant) liable, because:

The defendant is in the best position to protect against a risk of harm at the lowest cost. Specifically, “Defendants are the only ones who could have provided a proper warning of the effects of that medication.”  Id. at *6.

The hospital was the party which knew the side effects of the medication and could have forewarned its patient.

The majority…[of the court]…noted that the cost of the duty it established was a small one: all the medical provider has to do is warn the patient of the dangers associated with a particular medication, here being the patient’s ability to operate a car safely.  Id. at *8.

The court stated the hospital did not have to prevent the woman from leaving, but it did have a duty to inform the woman of the possible side effects of the administered drugs and how they could affect her driving. The court pointed out that this responsibility was not adding to a doctor’s already existing obligation to advise a patient of risks and possible side effects.

Why is this case significant? The doctor’s liability extended to the plaintiff, a third party. While the change is slight, healthcare practitioners and hospitals can now be held liable and responsible to a third party, which they have never seen or treated, if they neglect to provide important information to patients.

If you have questions or comments about how this decision may affect you, contact me today with questions or comments.

Stephanie J. Rodin, Esq.Stephanie J. Rodin, Esq.
Rodin Legal, P.C.
Email: info@rodinlegal.com
Tel: (917) 345-8972
Fax: (917) 591-4428

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