On December 16, New York State's highest court issued a landmark decision expanding the potential liability of physicians and other health care providers for car accidents. Specifically, the New York Court of Appeals held that a physician may be liable to third parties if an act of medical malpractice is determined to be the cause of an accident. The court's decision could have wide-ranging implications for how trial courts in the state view such claims in future cases.
Failure to Warn Proves Costly for Innocent Bus Driver
This case began with a trip to the emergency room. In March 2009, a woman visited a hospital in Nassau County, New York, complaining of “internal pain.” An emergency department physician and physician's assistant examined the woman, and in the course of treatment administered two drugs, an “opioid narcotic painkiller” and another sedative. Both of these drugs can produce side effects, including an impairment of one's ability to drive a car.
The physician did not alert the patient to these side effects, however, and about an hour later she proceeded to drive home in her own car. About 20 minutes after leaving the hospital, the woman “crossed a double yellow line and struck” a bus. The bus driver subsequently sued the hospital and the doctors who treated the woman.
Before Nassau County Supreme Court, the victim argued that the health care providers were liable for the accident due to their “medical malpractice” in failing to warn their patient not to drive her car right after receiving the pain medications. The defendants replied they did not owe the plaintiff any “duty of care” under New York law. The Supreme Court agreed and dismissed the bus driver's complaint.
But theCourt of Appeals, by a 4-2 vote, reinstated the case after determining the defendants did, in fact, owe such a duty of care. Judge Eugene M. Fahey, writing for the majority, said “where a medical provider has administered to a patient medication that impairs or could impair the patient’s ability to safely operate an automobile, the medical provider has a duty to third parties to warn the patient of that danger.” While the defendants did not have to physically prevent the woman from leaving the hospital or driving her car after receiving treatment, they did owe it to the general public to at least warn her “about the side effects of the medication administered to her.”
Judge Leslie Stein dissented. She argued the majority's ruling was not supported by existing law and “the extension of a physician's duty to warn a patient to a third party comes at a heavy cost, both financially and socially.” She suggested the state legislature may want to “carefully consider whether the majority's holding is consistent with New York's statutory medical malpractice schemes and the aims of tort recovery in New York.”
Need Help From a Personal Injury Lawyer?Notwithstanding Judge Stein's remarks, the Court of Appeals' decision represents an important step in holding medical providers liable for negligent acts which may lead to accidents and injure innocent third parties. If you have been in a car accident and need advice from an experienced New York personal injury attorney on how to proceed against the responsible parties, contact the offices of Waldhauser & Nisar, LLP, right away.