The “typical” medical malpractice case involves something pretty clear: a patient receives the wrong medication and is injured, a surgeon accidentally makes a mistake which causes harm, or a diagnosis is botched leading to long-term problems. In all of these incidents a medical patient does not receive care up to reasonable standards and the patient is harmed as a result. But it is not always that simple–and complex legal issues might arise in those more atypical cases.
Third-Party Liability in Med Mal Cases
For example, not long ago one state court addressed an issue related to third party liability for medical mistakes. The case involved a doctor who failed to explain how a patient’s medical condition would affect her driving ability. The patient subsequently drove recklessly and caused serious harm to another. The patients had liver and kidney problems which come with latent driving risks. She wasn’t warned about those risks and blacked out when behind the wheel–causing the serious accident.
The individual hurt by the poor driving filed suit which named the doctor as a party. The argument was that the doctor’s failure to warn the medical patient of the effect of her medical condition on driving proximately caused the serious car accident. If the doctor had properly advised the women, then she would not have drove and the harm would not have occurred.
These sorts of third-party liability issues are quite complex, and various courts reach different conclusions regarding the medical professional’s obligation to warn of these dangers and the potential liability if harm arises as a result of that failure to warn. In this cases, as in many of them, the court refused to allow the case to go forward. The main issue was that there was no doctor-patient relationship between the injured plaintiff and the doctor. Various medical malpractice rules require this relationship in order for the “duty” element of these negligence suits to be met. In other words, the specific defendant must have owed the specific plaintiff a “duty of care” in order to be held liable for harm to that plaintiff. In this case the court did not find that duty element met, and so the case was dismissed.
However, this specific ruling does not mean that doctors or other medical professionals in these cases would never face consequences for failing to warn patients of dangers that cause harm to others. For example, in certain situations the patient themselves might bring a doctor into a lawsuit for indemnification. If the injured third party sues the patient who actually caused the accident, then the patient themselves might bring the doctor into the suit under the theory that the doctor should repay the patient for any judgment because the doctor’s negligence might have caused the economic loss. The duty issue is not necessarily present in that situation because it involves the actual medical patient seeking to hold her doctor liable–the requisite patient-doctor relationship is present.
All of this is a reminder of the complexity in many negligence cases, including those stemming from medical malpractice. Lawyers who work on these cases can explain if third-party liability issues might be a factor in your individual situation. In many circumstances the potential liable parties are not readily apparent, but more in-depth research reveals all those who may have played a role in an accident.
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