A hospital did not breach a duty of care as a matter of law to a police officer who suffered injuries while responding to a traffic accident allegedly caused by a just-released colonoscopy patient, Massachusetts’ highest court has ruled, affirming the trial court below.
The police officer responded to an emergency report of a pedestrian-automobile accident. On his way to the scene of the reported accident, another car hit the Plaintiff’s police car, causing what were apparently serious injuries. The pedestrian involved in the accident to which the Plaintiff was responding had earlier that day undergone sedation after a colonoscopy at Brockton Hospital. Plaintiff’s theory was had the hospital provided an escort for the patient/pedestrian, he would not have had to respond and the accident would not have occurred.
Specifically, Plaintiff argued that a duty of care existed under two theories to back door the foreseeability problem: (1) a “special relationship” the hospital had with the patient and with Plaintiff, (2) a voluntary assumption of a duty of care by the hospital to protect third parties from harm caused by “impaired” patients.
The case generated some attention. Amicus briefs filed by the Massachusetts Academy of Trial Attorneys to support Leavitt, and by the Massachusetts Defense Lawyers Association and the Professional Liability Foundation, Ltd., to support the hospital.
The Massachusetts high court found that both theories were no distinctions from the duty and foreseeability problem in finding that a hospital owes a duty of care to a non-patient third party to prevent a sedated patient from causing injury after the patient leaves the hospital.
Whether negligence extends to “an innocent third-party bystander” was recently decided in Maryland in Gourdine v. Crews. In that case, the family of a man killed in an auto accident sued Eli Lily claiming that his death was caused by a diabetic who blacked out while under treatment with two insulin medications. Continue reading