According to documents in the case of Davis v. South Nassau Communities Hospital, Lorraine Walsh came to the South Nassau Communities Hospital emergency room on March 4, 2009 with stomach pain. A doctor at the hospital administered a heavy pain medication then soon after discharged her without advising that it was not safe for her to operate a motor vehicle while she was under the influence of the drug.
Ms. Walsh, unaware that the Dilaudid she was given could impair her ability to drive, attempted to drive herself home from the hospital. On her way, she crossed into oncoming traffic. Walsh’s vehicle struck the vehicle of Edward Davis who suffered injuries as the result of the accident. Davis filed suit against the hospital and the attending physician for medical malpractice, alleging that the hospital and doctor had been negligent in having failed to warn Walsh of the dangers of driving while under the influence of Dilaudid.
In the initial lawsuit, both the hospital and the physician moved to dismiss the case arguing that the case brought by Davis lacked legal merit. The court dismissed Davis’ suit. Davis appealed to the Appellate Division which affirmed the dismissal of the suit. The Appellate Division explained that there was no duty on the part of the defendant medical providers to prevent injuries to third parties. Davis then appealed to the state’s highest court, the New York Court of Appeals.
At issue in the case was whether a third party who was injured by a patient could file suit against a medical provider if the provider was guilty of malpractice in a situation that caused the injury. Even though there was no special relationship with the medical provider, in a 4 -2 decision, the Court ruled that Davis’ claim was permissible.
In its ruling the Court stated that a third party, injured by an impaired patient, can sue a physician for failing to warn the patient that medications they were given would impair the patient’s driving ability. The court said that the doctor in this case “by taking 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.” The Court further stated that the only ones in a position to warn Walsh of the dangers were the doctor and the hospital.
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