Friday, August 12, 2011
The New York Appellate Division for the Second Judicial Department has held that claims that sound in medical malpractice should have been dismissed where the plaintiff did not have a doctor-patient relationship with the defendants.
The patient, who was in outpatient treatment, had murdered the spouse of the plaintiff:
...we conclude that the extension of a physician's duty of care beyond a narrow class of potential defendants, such as immediate family members, cannot be supported under any analysis of duty. Clearly, medical professionals should not be singled out to be subjected to liability to a limitless class of potential defendants. In addition, we cannot justify such an extension of duty based solely upon moral or even ethical considerations. As indicated, "[w]hile moral and logical judgments are significant components of the [duty] analysis, we are also bound to consider the larger social consequences of our decisions and to tailor our notion of duty so that " the legal consequences of wrongs [are limited] to a controllable degree' "...Therefore, regardless of any sense of outrage which is evoked by the heinous actions of Evan Marshall, society's interest is not best served by concluding that a doctor who treats a patient, within the context of mental health, undertakes a duty to the public at large.
Indeed, it seems certain that such a greater risk of liability would negatively impact the medical treatment of mental health patients. At worst, mental healthcare providers may be reluctant to even undertake treatment of those who are most in need of their services. At the very least, the extension of possible liability would encourage such health care providers to opt in favor of what may be unnecessary confinement for such patients, and concomitantly, decrease the ability of such patients to ultimately successfully integrate into society.