— by Anna McGinty
A bus driver, Plaintiff, alleged that the Defendant South Nassau Communities Hospital treated a third party with medication that affected her ability to operate an automobile and due to that impairment she was involved in an accident with the Plaintiff bus driver. The court determined that Defendant did in fact have a legal duty of care.
A bus driver, Plaintiff, alleged that the Defendant South Nassau Communities Hospital treated a third party with medication that affected her ability to operate an automobile and due to that impairment she was involved in an accident with the Plaintiff bus driver. The Court determined that Defendant did in fact have a legal duty of care.
The third party sought treatment at the Hospital’s emergency room. According to the medical records she drove herself to the Hospital where she was administered with Ativan and Dilaudid. The common side effects of Atvian include sedation, dizziness, weakness, unsteadiness, disorientation, and is described to have a sedative/hypnotic effect. Additionally, Dilaudid has two to eight times the painkilling effect as morphine and lasts for 2-4 hours. Furthermore, the label on the Dialudid medication states that it “may impair mental and/or physical ability needed to perform potentially hazardous activities such as driving a car or operating machinery.” The third party was then discharged from the Hospital an hour and a half later and she drove herself away from the facility. Nineteen minutes after discharge from the hospital she was involved in a motor vehicle accident in which the automobile she was driving crossed a double yellow line and struck a bus driven by the Plaintiff. Plaintiff described the third party as in a “state of disorientation” and “under the influence of the aforementioned drugs.”
The Island Medical defendants moved to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a cause of action contending that they did not owe Plaintiffs’ a duty of care as they were third parties to the treatment rendered to patient. Furthermore, the Hospital asked for the same relief. The Supreme Court granted the motion seeking dismissal of the complaint. On appeal, the Appellate Division affirmed and reasoned that because it was only the third party with the physician-patient relationship that the allegations did not support a duty of care owed by the Defendant to the injured Plaintiff.
The Court of Appeals historically has only expanded the existing duty of care with reluctance. The Court previously in Eiseman v. State of New York, declined to impose a broad duty of care extending from physicians past their patients to “members of the. . . community individually.” However, the Court in Purdy v. Public Administrator of County of Westchester extended the legal duty and stated that “there exists special circumstances in which there is sufficient authority to control the conduct of third persons that [have given rise to] and a duty to do so.” The Court indicated that those circumstances exist where there is a relationship between the defendant and a third person whose actions expose the plaintiff to harm such as would require the defendant to attempt to control the third person’s conduct. Here, the Court stated that to simply take the step of administering the medication without warning the third party about the disorienting effects of the drug was to create a danger that affected all motorists in the third party’s vicinity. The Defendants are the only ones that could have given the third party the proper warning of the negative effect of the drugs. Therefore, the Defendants had a duty to warn the third party about the effects of the drug to impair her ability to safely operate an automobile.
The Court observed that the cost of the duty imposed by physicians is only a small one. For example, where a medical provider administers to a patient medication that impairs or could impair the patient’s ability to safely operate an automobile, the medical provider need to do no more than simply warn the patient. Furthermore, the hospital need not prevent the third party from leaving the hospital but just ensure that when the third party leaves the hospital they are warned about the effects of the medication administered to her.
Thus, the Court of Appeals ruled that the order of the Appellate Division should be modified, without costs, by denying the motions of the Island Medical and the Hospital to dismiss the complaint. The full opinion can be found at Davis v. South Nassau Communities Hospital, et al., 2015 WL 8789470 (N.Y. Dec. 16, 2015).