Treating Physician May Be Liable to Third Parties After Providing Medication

Earlier this month in New York, an appellate court handed down a decision broadening the liability of treating physicians when they administer medication to a plaintiff in the hospital. In the case, Davis v. South Nassau Communities Hospital, the court held that prescribing doctors may be liable to a third party when they fail to warn a patient of the potentially intoxicating effects of the medication they recently administered.

drugs-1328529The Facts of the Case

A woman (“the Patient”) drove herself to the hospital and was treated by the defendant doctors. The Patient was provided an opioid painkiller, as well as a benzodiazepine intravenously, and then discharged about an hour and a half later. On her way home from the hospital, she crossed over a double-yellow line and crashed into the plaintiff’s bus. The plaintiff was injured as a result and filed suit against the treating physicians as well as the hospital that employs them. The case does not involve the Patient herself.

The plaintiff alleged that the treating physicians were liable for his injuries because they were negligent in failing to warn the Patient that she may not be safe to drive after having been administered the medication. Key to that claim was the determination of whether the defendant doctors had a duty, owed to the plaintiff as a third party, to warn the Patient of the effects of the medication.

The defendants claimed that no duty existed, since the only person to whom they owed a duty was to the Patient. The lower courts agreed and dismissed the case in an early proceeding before the case reached trial. Not satisfied with the result, the plaintiff asked a higher court to review the decision.

On Appeal

The appellate court reversed the lower court on this issue, finding that the doctors did owe the third-party plaintiff a duty of care under these circumstances. Specifically, the court noted that it was foreseeable that the Patient would experience some side effects from the medication and that the doctors and hospital staff were the only ones who could conceivably warn the Patient of these effects. As a result, the court did not hesitate in announcing that there was a duty owed – not to the Patient herself – but to the third-party plaintiff. It is worth noting that the physicians likely owed the Patient the same duty, but that was not an issue in this case.

This is an interesting case because it expands the duty of care doctors owe people other than their patients. While this case arose in New York, the principles underlying the cause of action are equally applicable here in New Mexico. For example, any New Mexico personal injury plaintiff must show that the named defendant in the lawsuit owed them a duty of care, which was violated. This broad interpretation of a physician’s duty may allow for additional avenues of recovery for personal injury victims.

Have You Been Injured in a New Mexico Car Accident?

If you or a loved one has recently been involved in any kind of New Mexico car or truck accident, you may be entitled to monetary compensation to help you recover the costs you have expended on medical treatment. Additionally, if successful, you may receive compensation for lost wages as well as for the pain and suffering you endured as a result of your accident. Call 505-889-FINE to set up a free consultation with a dedicated and compassionate attorney today.

More Blog Posts:

Maine Supreme Court Affirms Jury Verdict Denying Damages to Injured Neighbor, New Mexico Personal Injury Lawyer Blog, December 1, 2015.

New Mexico Officials Urge Drivers to Recognize Risk of Holiday Drunken Driving, New Mexico Personal Injury Lawyer Blog, December 8, 2015.