Q. Can I be held responsible if one of my patients injures someone else after leaving my care?
A. Yes. In many instances, physicians may advise patients that they could potentially be a danger to third parties. That may include patients with unstable medical conditions or adverse reactions to treatments given at the office, patients who are elderly, or those who are prescribed controlled substances.
But what if a patient disregards the advice not to drive while on a medication, for example, and in the course of daily activities, harms someone else? Can a physician be held liable?
In Indiana, the answer is yes. Over the years, state courts have recognized that physicians may have a duty to persons other than their patients, duties that typically arise in the context of a patient under medical care injuring a third party.
In a 2011 case, the Indiana Court of Appeals acknowledged that a physician could be held liable for failure to warn a patient that it would be dangerous to drive with her medical condition and her medications.
What’s more, almost 15 years earlier, the Indiana Supreme Court held that a physician “owed a duty of care to take reasonable precautions in monitoring, releasing and warning his patient for the protection of unknown third persons potentially jeopardized by the patient’s driving upon leaving the physician’s office.”
These cases serve as important reminders that physicians can be held responsible for their patients’ injuries to third parties. Here are some risk management suggestions that may limit your risk.
- Clearly advise the patient of potential side effects of treatments or medications, including recommendations about operating heavy machinery and other potential impairment issues.
- With the patient’s consent, advise family members attending appointments with patients of these risks.
- Provide literature containing and explaining risks and side effects of medication(s) and treatment(s) provided.
- Consider adding to the patient consent form a statement with a check box that reads: “I have discussed and understand potential side effects and risks that may arise from medication or treatment, and I understand there is a possibility for danger or injury to others should I ignore my physician’s recommendations regarding the same.”
- Document conversations with patients and families, information regarding medications and treatments provided, and note that verbal indication was given about potential for danger to others if the patient operates against medical advice.
Physicians insured by ProAssurance may contact our Risk Management department for prompt answers to liability questions by calling (800) 292-1036 or via email.