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Can Third Parties Sue Hospitals In The US?

Based on recent court rulings, third parties can now sue hospitals for any negligence that may have occurred because of their carelessness. The ruling was passed based on an incident that took place on March 4th, 2009, when a woman drove to the emergency room complaining of severe abdominal pain. She was prescribed “Dilaudid”, which was administered intravenously, along with Ativan, as she was allergic to morphine. She was shortly discharged from the emergency room as her condition became stable. Dilaudid is an extremely potent opiate painkiller, and Ativan is a muscle relaxer. As the woman drove back home, she was not informed by the hospital staff that her ability to drive will be impaired by the use of these powerful medications.

While driving, she crossed over a double yellow line, into oncoming traffic, striking a school bus driver. The driver suffered severe injuries as a result of the crash, including multiple skull fractures and permanent brain injury. He was confined to a wheelchair as a result of the injuries, and his wife soon divorced him due to his disability. The bus driver is now being taken care of by his family and he is collecting Social Security disability benefits and Workers’ Compensation for a living.

Being the plaintiff in the personal injury case, the driver soon filed a case against the hospital and the woman’s physician who failed to warn her of the fact that Dilaudid might impair her ability to drive. The medical malpractice lawsuit alleged that both the physician and the hospital were negligent in informing Ms. Walsh that she should not drive after taking these drugs.

The trial court granted a motion to dismiss filed by the medical providers, who argued that the claim Davis made against them lacked legal merit. The case was dismissed but the injured plaintiff appealed. The dismissal was upheld on the grounds that medical providers do not owe any duty of care to third parties. However, Davis took the case up to the highest court and appealed, where the court ruled that any third party injured by an impaired person can sue medical providers for their negligence. If drugs have been administered, the medical provider has a duty to inform the patient that their ability to drive could be impaired. The ruling was passed based on the fact that public safety has an overriding concern when compared to the existing duty of care.

Justice Eugene Fahey explained that the doctor in this case “took 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 went on to explain that the doctor and hospital were the only ones in a position to warn Walsh.

The New York Court of Appeals passed the ruling, stating that these types of third party claims are admissible. However, the ruling was opposed by the American Medical Association, who argued that the ruling would open the floodgates and expose medical providers to a practically limitless number of lawsuits.

Author Bio:

This guest article is from California litigation lawyers at McFarlin LLP serveing Los Angeles & Orange County. Helping clients with matters of: foreclosure, mortgage litigation, bankruptcy, real estate and business litigation.

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