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Medical malpractice can involve liability to third parties

Is it medical malpractice for doctors at a hospital to fail to warn a patient that pain killers administered to her might impair her ability to drive? The highest court in one state has ruled that it is medical malpractice, and that a lawsuit filed by an accident victim must be allowed to go forward against the hospital and the doctors. Based on prior medical negligence holdings in Louisiana, it is reasonable to conclude that the same rule may be applicable here.

Doctors at a large community hospital gave opioid narcotic painkillers and anti-anxiety drugs to a female patient intravenously. She was released from the hospital with no instructions on impaired driving and no requirement for a designated driver. Two hours after the administration of the drugs, the patient drove her car across a double yellow line on a highway and crashed into a bus.

The bus driver sued the doctor and the hospital, claiming medical malpractice for failing to give warnings to the patient. The lower court dismissed the case on the apparent grounds that the defendants had no duty to the bus driver but only to the patient herself. On appeal, the highest appellate court in New York reversed the lower court ruling and held that the duty extended to third parties who were reasonably foreseeable victims.

The decision is not that surprising because medical malpractice law in Louisiana and all other states derives from the basic principles of negligence law. Clearly, when a negligent act is a substantial factor in causing an injury, the negligent defendant is liable for damages to the injured parties. Furthermore, the persons to whom the defendant owes a duty are those who are within the reasonably foreseeable risk of injury that is created by the negligence. There is no act here that cuts off the causation between the negligence of the defendants and the injury to the bus driver. That is because it is foreseeable that administering such powerful drugs to a patient and then releasing her without a word presents a foreseeable danger to other motorists. 

Source:, "NY court reinstates medical malpractice suit in car crash", Dec. 17, 2015

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