A hypothetical scenario: An ER physician administers pain medication to an emergency department patient. The physician then discharges the patient without warning them that the pain medicine they ingested seriously impairs their ability to operate a motor vehicle. The patient gets behind the wheel of their vehicle, under the influence of pain medication, and gets into a car accident, injuring another motorist. Are the ER physician and the hospital liable for the third party motorist’s injuries? The New York State Court of Appeals says yes.
In actuality, the above scenario is not hypothetical at all. It is the factual basis of Davis v. South Nassau Communities Hospital.
Lorraine Walsh presented to the South Nassau Communities Hospital Emergency Department on March 4, 2009 complaining of stomach pain. After an evaluation, a physician administered Dilaudid pain medication and discharged Ms. Walsh shortly thereafter. The ER physician failed to warn her that Dilaudid is a very heavy pain medication that can cause severe drowsiness, nor did he advise her that operating a motor vehicle would be dangerous while under the influence of the drug.
While driving home, Ms. Walsh crossed into oncoming traffic and struck the vehicle of Mr. Edward Davis. Mr. Davis was injured in the accident. Edward Davis sued the hospital and treating physician for medical malpractice, claiming that they were both guilty of a failure to warn, making them medically negligent and liable for his damages.
The defendants moved to dismiss the suit on the basis that Davis’ claimed lacked legal merit and the court agreed; the case was dismissed. Davis appealed the decision the the Appellate Division who agreed with the judgement of the trial court. The Appellate Division, as part of their decision, said that the the defendants (medical providers) had no duty to prevent injuries to third parties. Davis appealed to New York’s highest court – the Court of Appeals.
In a 4-2 decision, the Court of Appeals ruled that Davis’ claim was, in fact, legitimate. Justice Eugene Fahey said,
“by taking the affirmative step of administering the medication … without warning Walsh about the disorienting effect of those drugs created a peril affecting every motorist in Walsh’s vicinity.”
Justice Fahey explained that the defendant doctor and hospital were the only entities with a professional obligation to warn Walsh of the dangers of driving under the influence of Dilaudid.
The Medical Society of the State of New York and the American Medical Association filed an amicus curiae brief (literally, “friend of the court” – unsolicited support of the defense) opposing the Court’s decision. They made the argument that this ruling could expose medical providers to a potentially infinite number of lawsuits. Justice Fahey defended the Court’s ruling, arguing that it is already a medical standard of care to provide drug warnings to patients and that this ruling imposes no additional obligations.
At Messa & Associates, we are committed to improving patient safety. Virtually every day, we console clients whose lives have been irreparably changed because hospitals and physicians break patient safety rules and deviate from standards of care. We feel the impact that these harms and losses have on victims, their families, and their friends. We remain frustrated by witnessing the number of preventable errors that routinely occur.
The medical malpractice attorneys at Messa & Associates are experienced in handling complex medical malpractice cases, including but not limited to MRSA infections, surgical site infections, foreign objects, missed diagnoses, surgical errors, and treatment errors/negligence. If you or a loved one has fallen victim to medical negligence at a hospital, nursing home, or rehab facility, act quickly. Call a medical malpractice attorney from Messa & Associates today, before your rights to legal compensation have expired. Call 877-MessaLaw for a free consultation or submit an inquiry online for a free case evaluation.
Joseph L. Messa, Jr. is the founding partner of Messa & Associates, P.C. He is an AV-rated attorney (highest rating available), listed in the Bar Register of Preeminent Lawyers. Read More