Court allows MDs to be sued by plaintiffs they've never met

March 1, 2007

In Massachusetts, the courts are allowing cases to go forward, that may "extend a physician's duty beyond the patient-physician relationship to nonpatients under certain circumstances," reported American Medical News (12/11/2006). Although it may be too soon to tell if this is the beginning of a trend, one recent lawsuit represents a cautionary tale for physicians.

In Massachusetts, the courts are allowing cases to go forward, that may "extend a physician's duty beyond the patient-physician relationship to nonpatients under certain circumstances," reported American Medical News (12/11/2006). Although it may be too soon to tell if this is the beginning of a trend, one recent lawsuit represents a cautionary tale for physicians.

The case involves Peter McConarty, MD, whose patient was involved in a car accident. After being discharged with antiglycemic medication, the patient, who had low blood sugar, lost consciousness. He lost control of his car and struck the plaintiff, Jeremy Arsenault. Arsenault sued McConarty, claiming that the accident could have been prevented if the doctor had warned his patient that the prescribed medication could make it dangerous for him to drive. McConarty tried to have the case dismissed on the grounds that no patient-physician relationship existed with Arsenault.

A state superior court judge refused to dismiss the case, however. In his ruling, the judge noted that the state has recognized instances when a person can be held liable when his or her action or nonaction produces "an unreasonable risk of causing physical harm" to another.