The Connecticut Supreme Court recently decided the case of Jarmine v. Troncale (No. 18258) the principal issue in that appeal being whether a physician who failed to advise an unaware patient of the potential driving risks related to her underlying medical condition breaches a duty to a party injured by the patient’s unsafe driving resulting from the doctor’s failure to warn.
In Jarmine, the defendant doctor treated his patient for various liver and kidney problems including hepatic encephalopathy but failed to warn his patient about the latent driving impairment associated with her condition. After the patient left the defendant doctor’s office, she blacked out while operating her motor vehicle and hit the plaintiff.
The trial court granted the defendant doctor’s motion to strike ruling that a third party is barred from bringing an action against a doctor for medical malpractice and that the doctor owed no duty to the plaintiff to warn of his patient’s driving risks associated with her medical condition. The trial court in issuing its ruling stated that the plaintiff failed to allege a physician-patient relationship as required under Connecticut medical malpractice law and that CT case law indicates that physicians have no common law duty to protect third parties from injuries caused by patients.
The CT Supreme Court held that the plaintiff’s complaint as sounding in medical negligence is legally insufficient because it contained no allegation that the plaintiff and the defendant had a patient-physician relationship as required under our medical malpractice statute. The Court, after reviewing the relevant case law, also held that the defendant doctor owed no duty to the plaintiff in this case because CT precedent does not support it, the plaintiff was an unidentifiable victim, public policy considerations counsel against it and there is no consensus in other jurisdictions, which have only rarely considered this issue.
Physician’s Advocate Groups have praised this decision stating that it protects doctors from being sued by third parties who are injured by patients. Query does it really? This decision, in certain scenarios, might not protect doctors who commit malpractice on a patient whose malpractice results in injury to a third party. Let us assume that in the fact pattern of Jarmine the patient blacks out and causes an accident that kills someone. What then?
The estate of the deceased person could sue the patient for wrongful death. The patient could then potentially join the doctor as a defendant on at least one legal theory. In a claim of Active-Passive Indemnification the patient would argue if I am responsible for the death of the third party then my doctor should indemnify me because my doctor’s active negligence was the direct cause of the plaintiff’s damages rather than the defendant patient’s passive negligence.
So on one hand a third party could not sue the doctor for medical malpractice or negligence but could instead sue the patient and still potentially collect against the offending doctor.
Richard P. Hastings is a Connecticut personal injury lawyerat Hastings, Cohan & Walsh, LLP, with offices throughout the state. He has been named a New England Super Lawyer and is the author of the books: "The Crash Course on Child Injury Claims"; "The Crash Course on Personal Injury Claims in Connecticut" and "The Crash Course on Motorcycle Accidents." He has also co-authored the best selling book "Wolf in Sheep's Clothing- What Your Insurance Company Doesn't Want You to Know and Won't Tell You Until It's Too Late!" He can be reached at 1(888)CTLAW-00 or by visiting www.hcwlaw.com.